Edwards Coming On Strong

A couple of people within the Minnesota Vikings organization give Ray Edwards strong reviews for what he has shown so far this preseason. While the rookie defensive end is realistic about his role in the Vikings defense, he also has lofty goals while trying to prove to other teams that he should have been drafted earlier.

Sometimes, perception isn't reality. So far, rookie defensive end Ray Edwards has been able to shed the draft-time perception he had of being a malcontent.

Edwards thought he was going to be selected in the first day, the first three rounds, of April's NFL draft, but his reputation of not getting along with his coaches at Purdue didn't help his draft status.

The talented defensive end fell from a potential first-day pick to being the Vikings' selection in the fourth round (127th pick overall).

"I thought I was a first-day guy. A lot of people had me graded as a first-day guy. It didn't happen. I landed here with the Minnesota Vikings and I'm loving every minute of it," Edwards said.

Whether or not that perception was reality back at Purdue, Edwards' fall from the first day to the opening round of the second day may help motivate him.

"I definitely came with a big chip on my shoulder. I've got to show the guys that passed up on me, but things happen. Portland passed up on Michael Jordan when he came out, so guys make mistakes. You've got to do what you've got to do with the opportunities that you are given," he said.

"A lot of people said I was talented, but I had a bad knock coming out of college, so I've got to prove myself like always – no matter if you're a 10-year veteran or a rookie, you've always got to prove yourself."

He's been doing that at camp. Some observers believe he is the fifth-best defensive lineman on the team already.

Defensive tackle Ross Kolodziej singled out Edwards when asked who surprised him at training camp.

"I think Ray is doing a tremendous job. He's just getting to the ball every day, playing with technique, making plays. The kid just plays hard. He's just an effort guy," Kolodziej said. "It's just awesome to see somebody come in day in and day out and put in the work like that – especially from a young guy, a rookie, to play with that tempo. A lot of times guys are trying to adjust to the speed and he's just flying to the ball and it's awesome to watch."

Edwards responded to Kolodziej's bouquet with humor.

"You know how guys are – we don't give out compliments too much unless you're a good-looking girl. But (the veterans) have been real welcoming to me. They haven't talked down to me or anything. They've just been encouraging me to get better and better, just saying that the speed picks up with each game. You've just got to keep up."

To this point, Edwards has kept up.

He has only two tackles so far this preseason, but he has registered one of the nine sacks – five by defensive linemen – and one of the three forced fumbles by the defense in two preseason matchups.

"I think I've progressed a lot. I've been getting better and better each day coming off the ball and knowing how to read blocks, knowing how to react to things," he said. "I see myself fitting in because our scheme is built for athletic defensive ends and an athletic D-line, period."

Edwards is listed as the second-string right defensive end, behind Erasmus James, on the depth chart, but he doesn't necessarily consider himself a pass-rushing specialist.

"In this league, if you don't stop the run, they're going to run it down your throat all day. You've got to stop the run first to get in those situations to rush the passer," he said.

Despite declaring himself eligible for the 2006 NFL Draft after his junior season, Edwards still finished seventh on Purdue's career sack list with 16, while he finished 15th with 24.5 tackles-for-loss. Despite those rankings, he started only half of the 36 games in his three-year career.

He hopes to eventually work into starter status with the Vikings, but for now he says he is willing to do whatever it takes.

"Your goal is always to be a starter. Nobody wants to be a backup, but to be a great team you have to have reliable backups and right now that's my role," he said. "I'm definitely staying in my role right now and if the time comes that they choose me to be a starter, that's what happens. As a backup, I'm going to go in there and give these guys a breather and make things happen."

That lowered expectation seems like a wise move for now, considering defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin's evaluation of Edwards this week.

"Ray is just a rookie trying to make the team at this point," Tomlin said. "He is making a good impression in that regard. We tell those guys all the time that they define their roles with what they do on the field. We mean what we say in that regard. He is doing a nice job of etching out a potential spot for himself. That will continue to develop over the next two weeks."

Edwards said that he hasn't been getting overloaded with information in the preseason and has been leaning on the veteran defensive linemen for information. Learning how to study film properly is the hardest transition, he said.

On the one hand, Edwards is grounded in his thinking when it comes to his role with the team. On the other side of the equation, he has huge goals set for the year.

"Getting one sack a game would help me out a lot and help the team out. You've got to dream big and make it happen. That's what I've always done throughout my whole life and that's why I'm here now," he said.

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