If second-year defensive end Ray Edwards carries his level of performance in training camp into games, Erasmus James will have a very difficult time getting the starting right defensive end spot back whether he is healthy or not.
Edwards has shown incredible speed and athleticism off the corner throughout the first couple weeks of training camp. But what has really stood out about Edwards has been his relentless intensity.
In fact, most of the stories written about Edwards to this point have expressed concern about him being a little over the top and out of control.
“It is part of what makes him good but at the same time you have to control your emotions,” defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. “There are going to be things said to you, things done to you and we have talked to him about just being able to walk away from situations.”
In particular, in the scrimmage against the Chiefs last weekend, Kyle “Crazy Joe Davola” goaded him into some fisticuffs.
“It got pretty testy out there,” Frazier said. “You like the fact that he is a tough guy when he has to be, but you've just got to be smart. In those situations you run the risk of getting kicked out of the game and we can't afford to lose him. He is very important to our future.”
What Edwards has shown out on the practice field this summer is a sharp contrast to the scouting report on him coming out of college”
“Edwards was a disappointing player to grade because he never developed into the player he was expected to become at Purdue and left college after his junior season,” according to GM Jr. “He definitely looks the part on the "Hoof" and has all the physical tools to be a good starting defensive end in the NFL if he could play with a high level of competitiveness and intensity on every snap. He has the long arms and quick hands to defeat blockers easily when he plays aggressively and has an explosive closing burst to finish plays once he gets close to the ball/quarterback.
“The trouble is that Edwards does not compete with any real sense of urgency and that is what caused him to get benched for the second half of his senior season at Purdue. Rarely do players who do not play hard in college all of a sudden begin playing hard in the NFL ... Despite his ability, Edwards may never take advantage of it to become the player he is capable of being ... He does not rush the passer aggressively on every snap and often, if his initial pass-rush move is stopped, he just stops his feet and quits. While he has quickness and speed to get the corner, he is not explosive off the ball and will struggle to get the corner in the NFL. He does not chase hard in backside pursuit consistently and will not fight through blocks to make plays on runs away. He does not deal with low/cut blocks well and gets cut to the ground way too easily.”
What? That’s not even remotely the guy the Vikings have seen in training camp this summer. In fact, he’s been the opposite of virtually all of those criticisms.
So what gives?
Defensive line coach Karl Dunbar has pushed the right buttons with Edwards. He talked straight with him about what was holding him back and somehow got him to turn it up a notch, not just occasionally, but all the time.
When explaining the team’s decision to draft Edwards, Vikings director of college scouting Scott Studwell expressed confidence that Dunbar would be able to bring the best out of Edwards.
And, looking back through our own archives, here’s what VU said about Edwards when he was drafted: “Flashes big-time ability both as a pass rusher and against the run but has not been a model of consistency and comes with a lot of question marks concerning his intensity, competitiveness and coachability. Edwards is potentially an excellent edge rusher with impressive quickness and lateral agility. However, the key will be if new DL coach Karl Dunbar can figure out how to develop his skills and push the right buttons to motivate him.”
So how good can Edwards become?
“What you like is his motor,” Frazier added. “I think that Robert Mathis, who we had in Indianapolis, just watching the way that Robert would practice just 100 miles per hour, and he is a great pass rusher in the NFL. Ray is very similar in the way he approaches practice, which I think is important. It's hard to turn it on and off and he does a good job of just going hard every single rep and with his talent, that should bode well when you get into game situations.”
Mathis has 31.5 sacks in 45 games over the past three seasons, and quite frankly, Mathis does not even have the size and natural athleticism of Edwards. But he has proven to have what Edwards is showing signs of, and that is that all-out, John Randle-type intensity on every single play. If that continues, he will be almost unblockable.