The fact Browns wide receiver Braylon Edwards has returned to practice is no longer the story now.
He came back Tuesday after missing the first six practices of training camp over four days with an undisclosed non-football injury.
But as the Browns try to rebuild, especially on offense, where they did not score a touchdown in the final six games last season, a team record, the real question involving Edwards is whether he can return to the form he had in 2007 – or at least approaching it.
The Browns have two wide receivers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Dante Lavelli and Paul Warfield, and while they obviously had some big seasons, nothing they did – or any other receiver in team history did -- ever came close to matching what Edwards accomplished in 2007. He had 80 receptions, second on the club, and set team records for receiving yards with 1,289 and touchdown catches with 16. In addition, he averaged 16.1 yards per catch, tops on the Browns.
"Me, Kellen (Winslow) and D.A. (Derek Anderson), we all just went out and had fun that year," Edwards said after practice. "We just relaxed and enjoyed ourselves, and then we went home and lived our lives.
"That's how you're successful, when you just relax and have fun. That's what I've got to get back to."
Edwards did not have fun last year – not at all. On the surface, his numbers look OK – 55 catches for 873 yards (15.9) and three touchdowns, all tops on the club – but when you compare them to those of 2007, it's easy to see how much his production fell off. He had 25 fewer catches, 416 fewer yards and 13 fewer TDs. That's a lot – a lot.
Edwards, though, was back having fun Tuesday morning. At least it appeared that way from his performance. Right away, he went over top of rookie defensive back Coye Francies to make a leaping grab in the back right corner of the end zone. Then a little later, he made an even better leaping grab over Gerard Lawson in the back left corner of the end zone.
But don't blame Francies or Lawson, for they both had pretty good coverage. It's just that the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Edwards is a big, strong, talented receiver who can muscle up and get the ball, but at the same time, he is agile enough to make sure he gets both feet down in bounds. That's a unique combination of football and athletic skills.
On one play later in the practice, the lack of concentration or whatever it was that caused Edwards to have about as many drops last season as he had TD catches in 2007, was nowhere to be found. Several defenders seemed to play hot potato with the ball, getting a hand on it, but none of them could grab it. Instead, it caromed back toward Edwards, who cradled it into his arms as he fell backward.
That's the kind of Edwards -- the one who played in 2007 -- the Browns want and need.
Edwards said all the right things Tuesday, that he and head coach Eric Mangini are on the same page, that Mangini has his back, that he likes the discipline Mangini and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll have installed, and that he's not thinking about the fact this is a contract year for him. He will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
"It feels good to be back in the mix," Edwards said. "It's one thing to be on the field but having to stand on the side and watch. It's another thing entirely to be out there practicing.
"I love competition. I love football. When I got out there this morning, it reminded me of that. It made me realize why I began playing when I was 12."
Edwards missed the final three preseason games last year with a foot laceration incurred when he was running sprints in his sock feet and got stepped on by teammate Donte Stallworth. That forced him to start the year rusty, and he never caught up.
But he doesn't think the time he missed at the start of this camp will have any lasting effect.
"Our season doesn't start until Sept. 13, so I have plenty of time to get ready for the Vikings," Edwards said. "Really, we have almost two weeks before our first preseason game (Aug. 15 at Green Bay)."
If all this rhetoric is an indication Edwards is relaxed and happy, then the Browns will likely be relaxed and happy as well because the receiver's numbers will be up. They will be closer to what they were in 2007 than they will be to what they were in 2008.
And at this point – for Braylon Edwards, Eric Mangini, the Browns and their fans – that's the only thing that matters. The rest of the stuff is old news.