One of the more intriguing defensive prospects in this year's draft is Purdue defensive end Ray Edwards. After finishing his junior year, the 21-year old Cincinnati native made his foray into the big time, eschewing his senior campaign in favor of the NFL Scouting Combine, and the one-shot lottery for his services at the very highest level.
What makes Edwards' story different from many underclassmen who move on up is that his raw athleticism and playmaking skills were slightly obscured in 2005 by what some regarded as a dip in on-field impact. After a 2004 season that saw him in the running for the Ted Hendricks Defensive End of the Year Award, big things were expected from the standout edge rusher. Reality was a bit of a different story, as Edwards started the first six games of the Boilermakers' 2005 season, only to find himself replaced as the top man by Rob Ninkovich. The two players spent the rest of the season in rotation, combining their efforts and coming up with 13.5 sacks. Edwards finished the year with 28 tackles and 5.5 sacks, and he's seventh all-time in Purdue history with sixteen quarterback takedowns.
Through his Combine and Pro Day, as pro scouts and personnel men got their own looks at Ray Edwards, a different picture began to take shape. By all accounts, his Combine went quite well. It's estimated by many that he'll be a reasonably high first-day pick, and he could be a steal if he continues to refine his technique.
After spending twenty minutes talking by phone with Edwards on Friday afternoon, I came away impressed by his quiet confidence, his honesty when explaining the challenges of his 2005 season, and his firm belief that it's the little things that matter at the next level.
In Part One of this interview, Ray talked about his family, his days at Woodward High in Cincinnati (where he earned first-team All-State honors and was named his league's Player of the Year as a senior linebacker), his development at Purdue, and what will make him a name to know on Draft Day 2006 and beyond.
Q: Could you tell us a bit about your family background? Are there any athletes in your family besides you?
A: I have a cousin who played in the NBA for about ten years – that's about it, really. My (other) cousins played local high school basketball – nobody else went on to college and played.
Q. What's your NBA cousin's name?
A: Tyrone Hill. He played in the NBA for a while, and my other cousins played some basketball (locally). My uncle Eddie played football at Iowa State.
Q: Pretty big family?
A: Not really. I have two sisters and one brother.
Q: Coming out of high school, you were pretty highly regarded – a lot of awards, lot of recognition. What positions did you play in high school?
A: On defense, I played middle linebacker and nose tackle in certain packages. On offense, I played everything but quarterback and center. I went to one of those types of high schools, you know – you had to play all "four ways".
Q: So, did you not play defensive end in high school?
A: No, I didn't.
Q: How many schools recruited you, and why did you choose Purdue in the end?
A: I was recruited by almost everybody. I chose Purdue for the simple fact that the whole recruiting process was kind of hectic and I had a good relationship with (current San Diego Chargers DE) Shaun Phillips, who was a standout defensive end there. He was there during my recruiting process, and we developed a great relationship. He was almost like a big brother to me when I came there in my freshman year – just having a great time and hitting it off. I also liked the defensive end coach at the time, Gary Emanuel – he now coaches the defensive line for the San Francisco 49ers.
Q: You were a Phys. Ed major at Purdue, is that correct?
A: In the end, it was History.
Q: How close are you to getting your degree?
A: I'm a little ways off – about a year and a half. I changed my major from P.E. – decided I didn't like it after going through all the major courses. I had to switch over to something I felt I would like.
Q: Do you think you'll go back and get your diploma?
A: Oh, definitely, definitely. I'm really committed to that – few out of my family have done that. Going back and getting my degree is a must for me.
Q: Great. Given that, why did you decide to come out a year early?
A: I felt that it was time to go – I feel I can make an impact on the NFL team I go to, and definitely help out my family. My grandmother is 63 years old, and she's been working for so long. She works nights now, so I know it's time to retire her, as well as sending my older sister back to college.
Q: In your junior year, you split starting time with DE R Rob Ninkovich, basically starting the first half of the season and playing in rotation the rest of the way. I would imagine you were disappointed that you didn't start the entire year – what was behind the decision to alternate the two of you?
A: At the point in time (when Ninkovich started), Rob was playing better than me. No doubt he was, and we later got into it a little bit. Things happened in the heat of battle, to kind of sum it up.
Q: In college, who was the toughest offensive lineman you faced?
A: I'd say (current San Francisco 49ers guard) David Baas of Michigan. He was really a tough opponent.
Q: What made him difficult in particular?
A: He moves his feet really well. He uses his hands really well…he's just hard to get around.
Q: From a football perspective, who was your biggest influence in college?
A: The guy I came up behind, Shaun Phillips – he showed me how to get off the ball. He had a great first step. He just knew how to get to the quarterback, how to disturb blocking (schemes), everything. I looked up to him a lot.
Q: What makes you a great edge rusher?
A: Definitely my first step off the ball – if you don't get off the ball quickly, offensive lineman can (set and) block you and use their hands.
Q: As a defensive end, how would you rate yourself playing the run?
A: Playing the run, I consider myself one of the better guys out there. It's not hard – you just have to make sure nothing gets outside of you, and if the ball-carrier goes inside, (shedding) blocks and moving in. I don't see that as a problem at all.
Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief at Seahawks.net, our Seattle affiliate on the Scout.com network.
ColtPower Insiders can read the rest of Doug's interview with Ray Edwards where he talks about his upcoming team visits, a recent private workout with a Super Bowl championship team, his Combine and Pro Day experiences, his off-season workout program, and the NFL players who influenced him.