Edwards stepping to the forefront

OWINGS MILLS -- Embracing basketball in his workout regimen, eliminating cheeseburgers and pizza from his diet and adopting a patient approach is finally paying dividends for Dwan Edwards. The Baltimore Ravens' defensive end has been assigned many unwanted labels over the past four years since being drafted in the second round, including being called a bust and a permanent backup.

Now that Edwards has transformed his body, he has gained a new description for his status.

With four-time Pro Bowl defensive end Trevor Pryce sidelined for three to five games with a broken wrist that required surgery, Edwards has emerged as a starter for Sunday's game against the Arizona Cardinals at M&T Bank Stadium.

"Everything I've been working for is right here now," Edwards said after practice Wednesday. "Let's go get it, let's see what I can do."

Edwards shed 25 to 30 pounds over the summer, and the 6-foot-3, 290-pounder was actually down to 278 pounds over the summer and had to regain weight prior to training camp.

Through a renewed devotion to basketball -- the former Montana all-state prep selection averaged 22 points a game as a high school senior -- and drinking gallons of water instead of Gatorade, Edwards is much quicker and leaner than he used to be.

"I cut out a lot of sugar, drank a lot of water and tried to stay away from fatty foods," Edwards said. "I worked my butt off this offseason. It's huge. I can't stress that enough.

"I feel so much faster and quicker than I ever felt. Watching it on film, it's amazing, the difference between this year and last year."

Heading into this season, Edwards had appeared in 24 career games with one start for a 54 career tackles and no sacks. Through two games, Edwards has registered four tackles and blocked an extra point in a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals where he penetrated the backfield on a crisp swim move.

"Oh, Dwan Edwards, I told you guys that he was playing better than anybody in camp," linebacker Bart Scott said. "He made a commitment in the offseason to really get on the field and show why we picked him in the second round.

"He's lost a lot of weight. I think he's finally settled in at one position. He has a non-stop motor and he's been playing some solid football for us."

Baltimore drafted Edwards with the 51st overall pick in 2004 out of Oregon State , following a strong recommendation from since-retired scout Ron Marciniak.

That move could turn out to be prescient as a one-time object of fans' derision and impatience looks like he's in the midst of a career resurgence.

"We've been waiting," Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said during training camp. "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."

Edwards judges that he's a step-and-a-half quicker than a year ago when he was shifting between defensive tackle and end.

A two-time All-Pac 10 Conference selection, Edwards had 159 career tackles and 12 1/2 sacks. In the NFL, though, Edwards has been the quintessential late bloomer.

"I hate to call myself that, but it's kind of looking like that's the way it is," Edwards said. "Obviously, it's tough to sit back and watch until you get an opportunity, but that's kind of how it is in the NFL.

"I've had some great players in front of me. It's unfortunate what happened to Trevor, but that's the name of the game. Someone gets hurt and someone else steps in. I guess it's me."

Although Edwards will be paired opposite first-round right tackle Levi Brown, the Ravens don't appear to have any concerns about his ability to compete. On the Ravens' list of issues, even though he's replacing Pryce who had a team-high 13 sacks a year ago, how Edwards will fare seems to rank fairly low.

"Dwan, he'll play well," Ravens defensive line coach Clarence Brooks said. "He's been as steady a player as we've had all season and in the preseason. Since I've been here everytime we put Dwan Edwards on the field, he's made plays for us.

"Everybody else's expectations for him aren't as big as what he has for himself. He's a proud guy. He's changed his body around. I'm excited for him."

When asked what he expected from Edwards, linebacker Ray Lewis replied: "Just relentless pursuit to the football. He's a very aggressive young man. It's just going to be a privilege watching him have fun with the first-string defense."

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

That was practically a breakthrough after playing in just four games as a rookie with three tackles.

Edwards hasn't been blind to the criticism he has garnered as a rare, high defensive draft pick who hadn't become a starter.

"It's definitely tough," Edwards said. "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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