Garrett Edwards played mostly quarterback at Downers Grove North high school. So it took him awhile to learn the safety position at Illinois. Like several teammates, he struggled last season. Switching back and forth with nickel back didn't help.
"Yeah. I was still playing nickel, dime and safety, playing all over the place on defense. But hopefully I can concentrate a little more on safety this year."
Edwards dedicated himself to improving for 2009."
"Yeah, I'm trying to step up, learn the defense a little more and make more plays. I'm trying to take it to the next level this year."
The experience gained, coupled with an extra year of maturity and weight training, have given him the confidence to be more aggressive.
"Yeah, that was one thing I was wanting to improve on, to be more physical. As confidence came, I became more physical. That's what I'm working on, and I think I'm getting a little bit better at it."
It helps knowing the position and being able to react without thinking.
"Right. We went through a lot of guys last year. We were all thinking, you don't want to mess up when you're in there. This year, if you make a mistake you make a mistake. We can't have those, but you've got to stop thinking about it and play. I think that's the mentality of the safeties this year."
Being named a starter provided an extra boost of confidence. Edwards is now providing leadership for the secondary.
"It's good. I'm just trying to be assignment-sound every play. Being able to get guys in their places is a big part of what I've done. It feels good to be competent in there. I think that's helped me play."
The complexities of safety take time to learn. Simply lining up properly is extremely important.
"It's critical. We want to disguise out there and try to get in the quarterback's head. But being in the proper position and doing your assignment, really keying on what you've got to do. If everyone keys on what they've got to do, everyone becomes successful. If you don't do that, you take yourself out of making a play."
Even with improvement, the safeties have been exposed at times in each of the first two games.
"It takes time. We had some missed assignments against Missouri. We had to clean that up. If we don't have missed assignments, we're all right in the secondary. We've got a lot of work to do before we open up in the Big 10, but I think we'll be all right."
Edwards still believes Illinois can field a quality defense.
"I think we have more leadership on defense than last year. We're athletic. We have some young guys and older guys that mesh well together. But we have a long way to go. We'll take it a day at a time to get better. I think we've made strides."
The 6'-2", 210 pounder trusts the upperclassmen leadership to pull the defense together.
"Absolutely. The older guys are doing great. We have some fifth year guys on the defense, a lot of seniors. Those guys step up every day and lead us. We'll get on their backs and go where they take us."
The Illini now have two weeks to prepare for opening Big 10 foe Ohio State. He realizes the Buckeyes may seek vengence for the Illini upsetting them on their home turf in 2007.
"I think these two weeks are definitely to our advantage. There will probably be some of that, but we've just got to go there and play our game."
Edwards realizes the Illini can't rest on past laurels when invading Buckeye territory this year.
"We've got a lot of new guys since last time. We've got to go there and play with emotion. We can't go out there flat or be intimidated by them. We've got to go out there and play like we practice. These next two weeks of practice are key. We're looking forward to the future now."