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Edwards itching to play

Antuan Edwards, customarily one of the most relaxed and laid back citizens on this planet, is openly "excited" these days.<p>

Translation: He can hardly wait ... to get back on the Packers' South Oneida Street practice field.

In large part, of course, because the fourth-year Packers defender has been absent from the firing line considerably longer than most of his confreres, having been sidelined for all but three weeks of the 2001 campaign after suffering a season-ending knee injury while covering a punt in the Green and Gold's Sept. 30 visit to Carolina.

Also because injuries have consistently complicated his pursuit of football success in recent years and he is clearly ready for a fresh and healthy start. He already was hampered bv a physical woe when drafted in the first round of the 1999 NFL draft (the 25th player chosen overall). He underwent foot surgery a week after he was drafted in order to correct a problem that had plagued him during his senior season at Clemson and continued to affect him off and on during his NFL rookie year.

Although he was able to play in all 16 games that baptismal campaign, things did not go all too well for him physically in 2000. He sprained his left knee as a starter in Week Two of the 2000 season at Buffalo, an injury that forced him to sit out the next four contests, and later suffered a broken rib against Minnesota that year (Nov. 6), though, he was able to play despite the handicap for the rest of the season.

As might be expected, Antuan thus was not quite ready for what subsequently befell him at Carolina in September.

"Last year, I came into camp in great shape," Antuan, fresh from a rehabbing session in the Packers' training room, began. "So it was very disappointing – getting hurt in the third game of the year. But, you know, things happen and you have to move on past that. And, right now, my focus – my main focus – is to get back out there and show Green Bay why they drafted me in the first round in '99.

"And I'm just as excited as I was before (coming in as a rookie in 1999) if not more so. It's more of a challenge for me now – getting back from the injury because of what happened. I'm looking forward to it and I'm excited about this coming year."

Edwards also is enthused about the Packers defense, and his potential role in it as well as the team as a whole. But more on that later.

A regular visitor to the team's training room since last October and a daily participant in the onerous rehabbing process ever since, the personable Mississippian admits he has found it a long and lonely "road," but a rewarding one.

That, he says, is primarily because "the knee is doing great right now. And that's my main focus right now – it's just to rehab this thing every day until I'm ready to go. And hopefully by training camp, I'll be ready."

Edwards, who spends his weekdays at Packers headquarters fully involved in the remedial process, confided, "I'm working with (Packers assistant trainer) Bryan Engel daily and doing all of the agility work" (in the mornings, followed by a daily classroom session with defensive backfield Coach Bob Slowik in the afternoon).

Progress, of course, is measured in stages in the long and laborious process of rehabbing in the wake of knee surgery.

"This week was the second week," Edwards informed with pride, "that I've started running – straightforward running – and it's not bothering me You know, I did all the necessary things to get ready for the running part of the rehab.

"Right now," Antuan added, "it's looking good. There's been no setbacks."

A highly positive development, admittedly, but he is aware there are more "bridges" to cross.

"An ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) takes approximately about 9 to 11 months," he pointed out."I'm going on about my sixth month (mid March) right now. So it's the process that we have to take. And right now, there is no reason for us to rush anything.

"But they (the Packers' medical staff) have guaranteed me pretty much that I'll be ready for the start of the season.".

The regular season?

"Right," Antuan affirmed.

He appended, "I should be able to run full speed before that Hopefully, by another month or two, I could be wide open."

Focusing on free safety

A versatile performer who has played both cornerback and safety since arriving in Titletown, Edwards purposely avoids declaring a favorite.

"I think whatever the Packers need me to play, I can go out and play," he said¸ with quiet and impressive confidence when the question arose. "I don't put any restrictions on my ability. Whatever they need me to play, I'll go out and get it done."

Does he, by chance, find one position more challenging than the other?

"For a guy my size, yes, corner is pretty challenging because of, you know, the dieting. My frame is about 200 pounds, and in the NFL there's not many 200-pound corners (his customary playing weight is 210 pounds). And that's pretty much the hardest part of it – trying to stay as light as possible. But I could do it – anything."

Might he have a personal preference?

Laughing, Edwards promptly rejoined, "Which ever one can get me in a starting position – quickest. To be honest with you, that's my main focus – to be a starter here in Green Bay, to get on the field."

At this preseason stage, his assumption is that he will be heading into training camp this year as a safety, pointing out, "I didn't play corner much this season. I was strictly just a safety – I played behind LeRoy (Butler) at free safety."

It also is the "message" he is getting from the coaching staff, Edwards said, noting, "I've been meeting with Slow (his position coach, Bob Slowik) during this off-season and the position I played last year – that's the only position that we've been talking about." Noting that he is behind elder statesman Butler at safety on the defensive unit's current depth chart, Edwards was asked how he "sees" that circumstance heading into the '02 season.

"It's challenging," he acknowledged. "But, at the same time, you know, LeRoy's been around a long time, and it's also a good experience for me. And it's a knowledgeable experience for me to be able to play and watch a guy that's done it for so long – a Hall of Famer – a Pro Bowler. And you can't ask for much more than that."

What does he consider his own best assets?

"I think my knowledge of the game," Antuan replied, after due consideration. "Being able to pick up schemes faster. It's not much that a coach can tell me that I can't just grasp or pick up right away. I think that's one of my advantages of being able to play all of the positions back in the secondary. I understand the game, and I think that's one of my biggest attributes."

And what might he need do to improve his game?

"From the playing perspective, I don't know how to explain it, but probably, instead of trying to go out and just play and make things happen, I think I should just let the game come to me, you know, because sometimes I can get too aggressive – at times – just trying to make a play."

The impression, it was suggested, is that should he once get into the starting lineup, he is confident hat he would be there to stay.

"No doubt," Antuan affirmed. "I think I could be here for a long time."

Slowik, who says he has "high expectations" for Edwards in 2002, is inclined to agree.

"He's just waiting in the wings," he says of him, citing Number 24's intelligence and work ethic. "When his opportunity arises, he's just going to take off and fly."

Edwards, meanwhile, also has high expectations for the defense in general.

"At this point now, obviously we've lost some key guys from an experience standpoint," he acknowledged, "but I see us as one of the top defenses in the country – just because of (coordinator) Ed Donatell, and Slow (Slowik). The defensive staff that we have – they're able to put guys in positions to make plays.

"I don't see us missing a beat next year. I think it's going to be challenging at times because there are going to be some new faces but I think the scheme that our defensive coordinator and defensive staff have come up with is an easy scheme, and it's simple. When you can get a simple scheme that works, we can be very competitive"

And the team as a whole?

"You know, we have 4 (quarterback Brett Favre) and 4 is the leader, and everybody on the team looks up to 4. And, as long as he's playing good, we're going to play good. And that's the thing. And I think we have a chance of winning, again."

Looking back over his personal year and his rude treatment from the football fates, Edwards admitted, "It was very hard. But it was good to watch us go as far as we did (the second round of the NFL playoffs). But, you know, it's always tough – it's always tough to sit and watch.

"It's been a long time," Antuan summed up. "When the season starts up again, I'm going to be real excited, like a little kid out there that hadn't played ball in a long time..."

Editor's note: This story appeared in the April 2002 issue of Packer Report.

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