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Panthers DT Edwards back, ready to contribute

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SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP)

Defensive tackle Ron Edwards arrived at Carolina Panthers training camp with one thing on his mind: ''I just wanted to hit something.''

You can't blame him.

Edwards' first season in Carolina lasted all of about two-and-a-half hours.

He tore his triceps in the Panthers' first training camp practice last summer and spent the rest of the season on injured reserve.

Now healthy, Carolina is counting on Edwards to bounce back this year and be a key ingredient on defense.

The 12-year NFL veteran will be asked to take on double teams up front and allow the linebackers Jon Beason, James Anderson and rookie Luke Kuechly to run to the football. It's a thankless job, but his teammates realize just how valuable it is to have the 325-pound space eater on the field.

''I think (having him back) is great,'' Anderson said. ''You've got a guy that's 300-plus pounds and he's demanding two blockers so that means there's going to be a linebacker that can make plays and be free. That's something you definitely need for this defense.''

A year ago, middle linebacker Jon Beason jokingly referred to Edwards as his ''bodyguard.''

When Edwards went down in camp, Beason more than anyone knew what a huge blow that was to the Panthers. It also turned out to be a bad omen for the Panthers defense. Beason blew out his Achilles in the regular-season opener and linebacker Thomas Davis tore his ACL the following week.

Carolina's defense went on to finish 27th in the league.

Watching Edwards on film, Beason was reminded of why he was so excited about playing behind Edwards last year.

''There was one play where he gets on the center and he peeks this way and kind of throws the center back and makes the tackle,'' Beason says. ''We have an eight-man box and have the extra defender, but he took it on himself to go ahead and make the play. It was refreshing. Just to get a big, strong wide body in there, it will help keep me clean a lot of times. I'm looking forward to it.''

So is Edwards.

After the injury last season he decided to help out in any way he could.

He attended almost every practice, trying to mentor rookie defensive tackles Sione Fua and Terrell McClain. Part of it was Edwards felt that obligation after the Panthers invested $8 million in him over three years and he wasn't able to perform. But it also was important for him to stay close to the action.

''All of my knowledge I had I basically gave it to them in any way I could just to help out,'' said Edwards, who has played in 128 games and started 85 during his NFL career.

Said coach Ron Rivera: ''He was here every day. He's a professional. He understands it.''

However, Edwards learned one thing - he'd much rather play than coach.

''It feels great just being out there out there with the guys and being able to contribute to what they brought me here for,'' Edwards said.

He said the triceps feels 100 percent.

He battled a hamstring injury in the spring and the Panthers are being cautious with him, already holding him out of one practice as a precautionary measure.

Edwards knows he has a tough road ahead.

Playing defensive tackle is never easy and if the Panthers use some 3-4 fronts like they expect to, Edwards job gets even tougher. He knows from experience. Edwards played some nose tackle during his five-year stint with the Kansas City Chiefs.

''It's a hard life, you know,'' Edwards said with a laugh. ''It's a life of holding up blockers and taking on a lot of double teams.

''That's mainly what it is.''

Tagged: Jon Beason, Panthers, Ron Edwards

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