While Antoine Winfield continues his absence from the Vikings' organized team activities (OTAs) this week, cornerback Dovonte Edwards continues to get more comfortable in the saddle. Edwards defers that the left cornerback position belongs to Winfield when he returns, but the return of Edwards is a welcome sight for those concerned about the depth in the Vikings' defensive backfield.
On Aug. 31, 2006, Edwards broke his arm making a tackle in a preseason game. This week, he called it "definitely a significant injury" and he was just cleared to practice again in early April. He has been lifting weights since January and says he hasn't experienced any ill effects.
"The test will come in training camp when you have really have to start buttoning up with guys and tackling tight ends and such, taking on blockers," Edwards said.
For now, with Winfield MIA at OTAs, Edwards is the starter opposite second-year cornerback Cedric Griffin in the non-contact practices. Considering Edwards hasn't been on a football field working with a full complement of receivers since last year, he'll take any opportunity he can get to improve on his rookie season.
In 2005, Edwards joined the Vikings an undrafted free agent out of North Carolina State. His statistics say he made only nine tackles and one interception, but that memorable interception was off of Brett Favre during a Monday Night Football contest and Edwards returned it 51 yards for a touchdown.
Now he's back to proving himself like a rookie again … well, almost.
"I wouldn't say a rookie season, but it's definitely a fresh start for me, being new territory – I've never had a season-ending injury. It's something that's very new for me and something that I'm approaching with a good attitude. Hopefully I can regain form," he said this week after a practice.
While his second year in the NFL was mostly about rehabilitation of his arm, his rookie season was spent learning from veterans he respects. He credited playing with solid players like Corey Chavous, Brian Williams, Fred Smoot and Darren Sharper, along with Dwight Smith last year who, like Sharper, brought Super Bowl experience to the Vikings.
"It's just been a pleasure to learn from guys who have had a lot of success in the National Football League," Edwards said. "I just take knowledge from them, watch film with those guys, and get in those guys' heads and try to add my own twist to it on the field."
While he has a new defensive coordinator from last year and a new system from the last time he played games during the regular season, Edwards says he isn't starting over from scratch this season. Going through all of the organized team activities last year, along with the additional minicamps and training camp before the injury occurred, helped give him experience in the Tampa-2 defense that the Vikings will continue to execute this year.
He spent the regular season between treatment with medical personnel and meetings with the defensive backs and defense in general. During games, he was up in the coaching boxes trying to continue to learn and understand the defense from a different angle.
Now, after a year away from actually playing the game, he is thrust into the starting role (at least in practices) at left cornerback with the absence of Winfield.
"I think it shows the confidence that my coaches have and what I've shown them and this organization and the hard work I've put in and my attitude. I'm just holding it over until Antoine comes back. … I've been in this role before when Fred (Smoot) went down. I had to step in and play on that side," Edwards said, but there isn't much doubt in his mind that Winfield will return. "Not really. Antoine is a vet. He's been in the league a long time and had a lot of success. He'll do the right thing. He'll be back."
When that happens, Edwards will likely battle third-round pick Marcus McCauley for a role in the nickel defense on the outside while Winfield slides inside to cover slot receivers. For now, he's happy to be back on the practice field and out of the training room.
It took those first offseason practices in 2005 for Edwards to really feel like he belonged in the NFL. Two years later, he knows he belongs. That feeling started when he began to have success in practice against receivers no longer with the Vikings.
"When I started playing against the Nate Burlesons and having a lot of success against the guys like that, Koren Robinson … just building my confidence and having the confidence to go out there and have success against those guys, once I got over that hump it was pretty smooth," he said.
Dovonte Edwards Back in Action
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