On big-name Vikes line, Edwards begins to be known
Ray Edwards walked into the locker room, listening to music with oversized headphones covering his ears.
Once he took them off, a pack of reporters and cameramen quickly surrounded Edwards at his cubicle. This is how far his career with the Minnesota Vikings has progressed: His knee is injured, and it's become big news.
``Just trying to stay on top of it and keep the swelling down,'' Edwards said, in his typical nonchalant tone.
It's NFC championship week, so secrets are guarded even more closely than during the regular season in this already tight-lipped league. Edwards hurt his right knee in the third quarter of last Sunday's divisional playoff victory over Dallas, and he was held out of Wednesday's practice.
The signs point to Edwards playing this weekend in New Orleans, but he wouldn't offer many clues himself.
``Just taking it day by day,'' he said, smiling.
The timing of the injury was awkward, if not ironic. Edwards, whose emergence this season at left defensive end opposite All-Pro Jared Allen has quietly been a critical part of this defense's fierce pass rush and overall success, gave the Vikings the game of his life against the Cowboys.
Three sacks, five quarterback hurries, eight tackles - including two for a loss, according to coaching staff film review - and a forced fumble in not much more than 30 minutes of action. He came back for a few plays after getting hurt, then was done for the day with the Vikings way out in front.
``I just felt good,'' Edwards said. ``We've got the best fans in the NFL. They made a lot of noise for us.''
Edwards and Allen thrive off the loud home crowd perhaps as much as any other player, for the split-second advantage they can gain on opposing tackles who have trouble hearing the snap count and communicating with their teammates. The Vikings won't have that edge on Sunday in the equally raucous Superdome, but the Saints aren't about to take it easy.
``He's an athletic play-maker who had a whale of a game against Dallas,'' said Saints right tackle Jon Stinchcomb, who will be lined up across from Edwards. ``That just shows on a big scene: He stepped up and made huge plays for them. I'm going to have to put in the work now and prepare as much as I can, because he's obviously a great player.''
Allen and defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams are much bigger names with a longer list of accomplishments than Edwards, who the Vikings drafted in the fourth round out of Purdue in 2006.
He became a full-time starter in his second year, before a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance enhancing substances. He claimed a mistake in not checking the list of the league's banned workout supplements.
Edwards came back in 2008 and, buoyed by the offseason acquisition of Allen, boldly professed a goal of breaking the all-time single-season record for sacks. It was tough talk for a guy who had a total of just eight in his first two years.
``I looked at him and I was like, 'What?''' his agent, Doug Hendrickson, said this week. ``But I think Ray believes he can be one of the best defensive ends in the league, and I don't see why not.''
Edwards is one of the 212 NFL players who would lose unrestricted free agency status, and instead become a restricted free agent, if the league and the union can't agree on a new labor contract and save the salary cap for the 2010 season.
Hendrickson said he's had some discussions with the Vikings about an extension for Edwards, but the uncertainty of the collective bargaining agreement complicates any negotiations.
Edwards said he's not concerned about his contract, a strictly on-field focus he hasn't always had. The sack-record declaration was one example of how he let himself be distracted in this early stage of his career.
``Last year was a learning experience,'' he said. ``I was trying to do too many things. My personal life was kind of bogging me down a little bit. You just learn from stuff and hopefully don't make those mistakes again. I don't plan to. You just learn and keep growing.''
Edwards, who left the Boilermakers after his junior season, turned 25 just three weeks ago.
``I think the one thing people forget is that when Ray came in the league he was one of the youngest players in the draft,'' Hendrickson said. ``He finished his fourth year at 24 years old. There's rookies that come in the league at 23. He's always been very mature, but I think it takes awhile for anyone to kind of figure everything out.''
On Sunday against New Orleans, Edwards will go searching for another former Purdue player: Saints quarterback Drew Brees.
``Just to say hello,'' Edwards said, smiling. ``Boiler up.''