A few years ago, the Vikings brought in former Packers and Chargers defensive lineman Blaise Winter after his playing career was over. The Vikings weren't looking to extend the career of a beat-up jock, but they were interested in him working with their current defensive linemen to improve their hands.
Winter's specialty? Motivational speaking, the martial arts and hand-to-hand combat.
With Winter no longer a consultant for the Vikings, Ray Edwards decided to use the time off during his four-game suspension to learn a little about boxing and how it can help his football skills.
Edwards, who still tied for the Vikings' lead in quarterback sacks with 5.0 despite missing the final four games, was suspended by the NFL for violating the league's policy on anabolic steroids and related substances. He said he wasn't at liberty to discuss what it was he took, but he said he should have gotten the workout supplement approved before he took it.
"I definitely should have got the thing looked at before I took it. You live and you learn, but it was a very tough learning experience," he said. "I'm just going to focus on next year. I was hoping to prolong this year and focus on the playoffs."
Edwards would have been eligible to play this weekend if the Vikings had made the playoffs – he was reinstated by the league on Monday – but the team lost its final two games to finish with an 8-8 record and out of the playoff picture. Edwards wasn't available for the final four games of the season.
"These guys have helped me grow as a person and individual on and off the field, so definitely not being there for them in the rough times that I felt they needed me definitely hurt me a lot," he said.
He watched the games from his home and he spent time freshening up his boxing skills at a marshal arts center in the Twin Cities. Why boxing?
"I went to work with a boxing trainer to work on my hands and feet, and hand-eye coordination and things like that, so I definitely feel like that is going to help me out more next year," Edwards said.
The defensive end said he did a little boxing growing up, but he never focused on it like he did during his four weeks away from Winter Park.
"Just working on close-quarters combat and it definitely helps me with the footwork and hand-eye coordination of guys – the offensive linemen are trying to punch you when you rush them, so it definitely will be able to help you move from side to side and not let them get their hands on you," Edwards said.
As far as he knows, he is the only current defensive lineman on the team to be working on his boxing skills, but there is a close connection. Cornerback Ronyell Whitaker boxes and his uncle is Hall of Fame boxer Pernell "Sweet Pea" Whitaker. Edwards said he kept in contact with Kevin and Pat Williams and Dwight Smith, along with Ronyell, and Edwards plans to spend part of his offseason working on his boxing skills with "Sweet Pea's" nephew.
During his suspension, his other teammates told him to keep his head up and that they'd work toward the playoffs so he could join them at that time. Instead, Edwards rejoined the team on Tuesday for an exit physical and Wednesday's season-ending meeting before saying goodbye to teammates and preparing for an offseason that started one month too early for him.
"You always want to make improvements throughout your whole career. I was feeling that I was coming along, so I went away and worked on some things that I think will help me next year," Edwards said. "(The coaches) said just learn from (the suspension), grow from it and don't make the same mistake twice."
Edwards' suspension stemmed from a test he took back in April, but the sting of the suspension was felt during the four games he missed.
"It was already killing me not being there. Definitely being at the games would have been a worse-off feeling," he said.
Instead, he took the time to focus on another sport he hopes will help his primary occupation.
Edwards Going Out Punching
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