Edwards Getting Special Teams Reps

Coach Ron Zook is unafraid of playing rookies despite their lack of experience if they show potential to help the team. Several first year players saw action against Missouri, and more are expected to contribute in the near future. Garrett Edwards is one of those players.

Edwards is a redshirt freshman from Downers Grove North. He was a consensus All-Stater who starred as a quarterback, running back, receiver and free safety. His career totals included 3208 rushing yards and 1700 passing yards. He also returned three punts and three kickoffs for touchdowns while finding time to collect six interceptions.

Garrett was recruited as a safety by the Illini but missed almost his entire freshman season with injury. Despite his lack of practice time learning technique, he still impressed enough this fall to participate on some of the special teams against Missouri. He could be seen sharing Vontae Davis' moment in the sun after his punt block and touchdown.

"We switched our scheme up to hopefully get one (punt block). When we got one, it was such a big play in the game. Emotions were big there. It was a big play."

Co-Defensive Coordinator Curt Mallory coaches defensive backs and has witnessed Edwards' progress first hand this fall.

"He's come along. He still has a great deal of distance to go. But he's been injured since he's been here, and he's done a good job this fall."

Garrett discussed his Missouri game action.

"I played mostly special teams. I got a snap on defense, but it was different than high school. It was fast. I was glad to be out there, it was a lot of fun. It was a great atmosphere, one of many."

This game experience was a refreshing change from his freshman year.

"First it was my shoulder I had to get operated on, and then my back. It was frustrating, but I got all that taken care of and everything is pretty good now."

He not only had to overcome his injury problems but also his lack of training and experience on defense.

"I played enough (on defense in high school), but not as much as most of the guys recruited as defensive backs do. The speed is so much faster up here. I had to learn the basic stuff, the footwork, using your hands well. Things I didn't get the chance to learn in high school. I had to learn the basic things of being a defensive back."

Edwards is learning several positions and can help at any of them.

"I'm playing both free safety and strong safety. I'm also playing in the nickel and dime packages. It's almost like a linebacker. It almost feels like a corner in the box. It's completely different than safety as I'm not out in space. You have to be in run support first. That's going pretty good too, so I'm learning all that."

Garrett is presently listed behind Justin Sanders and Bo Flowers as options in the nickel package. But when Sanders is playing safety and the Illini go to a dime package, Edwards may be called upon. He will continue to gain experience on some of the special teams units. And he will prepare for a more prominent role next year when senior safeties Kevin Mitchell, Justin Harrison and Sanders graduate.

Garrett shared Illini defensive strategy for the Missouri game.

"We played mostly zone against Missouri. We adjusted in the second half and went to more man-to-man as they were getting underneath routes on us the first half. Their quarterback is great, and we had to put pressure on him and force him to get rid of the ball quickly and make decisions quick. We played man, and that's why I think we showed a little better in the second half."

Did the Missouri game help the team's confidence?

"Absolutely. They're picked to win the Big 12 North, and to play as well as we did and have a shot at the end of the game boosted our confidence. A lot of people didn't think it would even be close. I think when we were down 37-13, a lot of people doubted us. But we hung with them and showed we can play with anybody."

With a little experience under his belt, Edwards now talks like a seasoned veteran when discussing the immediate future.

"Now the focus is on Western Illinois. Missouri is behind us, and Western Illinois is a good team. So we have to study them and come out with just as much emotion as we did last week."

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