Edwards on the rebound

OWINGS MILLS -- Dwan Edwards swears he can dunk a basketball again, propelling his bulky frame into the air to rattle rims and threaten the sanctity of backboards. No, the Baltimore Ravens' defensive lineman isn't pursuing a career in the NBA.

He's just hooked on personal fitness and an improved diet that has allowed him to begin fulfilling the potential the Ravens' scouting department identified in him as a second-round draft pick four years ago. The 6-foot-3 lineman is down to 290 pounds, nearly 30 less than his playing weight last season.

"I got my hops back," said Edwards, a former all-state basketball player growing up in Columbus , Montana, who averaged 22 points as a senior. "I played a ton of basketball this summer. I'm dunking like I used to do."

Now, Edwards has emerged as a valuable member of the defensive line rotation primarily operating as defensive end Trevor Pryce's backup with the capability to swing between tackle and end.

It marks a career resurgence for Edwards, an object of fans' derision and impatience over the past few years as they wondered aloud why the team's top draft pick in 2004 has only started one game since being tabbed as the 51st overall pick out of Oregon State .

"We've been waiting," Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "I know the fans have been waiting for several years: 'What happened to the second-round pick?' When Ozzie Newsome drafts a defensive player, he's supposed to be a superstar. And he is, it just took some time.

"Sometimes with linemen, it takes a couple of seasons to really get right. Here's a guy who has really transformed his body and is playing at a different speed than everybody else. He had a terrific camp."

Through two preseason games, Edwards ranks second on the team with 10 tackles behind rookie linebacker Prescott Burgess' 13.

He's becoming accustomed to the responsibilities of a 3-4 end as opposed to a pure defensive tackle.

"Now that I'm an end, I know I'm an end," Edwards said. "I can kind of slim down and I'm better suited to play there now.

"I know what I'm doing now, so that's definitely a big plus for me. Definitely a step-and-a-half quicker than I was any year I've been here. I definitely had my best camp."

Edwards did more than play basketball. He ran sprints. He haunted strength and conditioning coach Jeff Friday's weight room. And he learned a newfound discipline at the dinner table.

"I cut out a lot of sugar," Edwards said. "I even stopped drinking Gatorade. Not as many fried foods as I used to eat and I started drinking a lot of water."

At Oregon State, Edwards was a two-time All-Pac 10 Conference selection who had 159 career tackles and 12 1/2 sacks. In the NFL, he has played in 24 games with 54 career tackles and no sacks.

Last season, Edwards played in eight games and posted a dozen tackles with one pass deflection.

"He looked pretty quick to me last year, but he obviously looks good," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "He's fit and strong and very confident in what he's doing, so obviously the drop in weight helped."

Two seasons ago, Edwards posted a career-high 38 tackles in 12 games, including eight tackles and one for a loss in his first career start against the Denver Broncos.

That was a relative breakthrough considering Edwards appeared in just four games as a rookie with three tackles.

He wasn't immune to the criticism he received as a rare Baltimore draft pick who was slow to find a place in the lineup.

"It's definitely tough," Edwards said. "You want to play, that's why you're here. But it's done nothing but motivate me to get better and push myself. I'm expecting big things out of myself this year and for years to come.

"It's one of the greatest defenses of the last decade, so arguably it's hard to crack that lineup. I've just been waiting my turn, and it's fast approaching."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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