RENTON — With every defensive back he beats down the sideline, with every leaping catch he makes, Braylon Edwards is out to prove something.
He was to make sure that you and I and everyone else know that he isn’t the player we saw last season. Edwards, the 29-year-old receiver who was the No. 3 pick in the 2005 draft and an All-Pro in 2007, wants you to know that his disappointing 2011 season in San Francisco wasn’t the sign of a veteran slowing down. Rather, it was a simple case of a player never getting a chance to show what he could do while playing on two good legs.
That guy you saw wearing Edwards’ jersey last year? That wasn’t him, he’ll tell you. But saying it is one thing, proving it while playing on your fourth team in the last five seasons? Well, let’s just say Edwards knows a strong training camp and a few nice catches in preseason games don’t mean he’s back to being the player who caught 53 passes for 904 yards as recently as two seasons ago. But just getting a chance to show what he can do is a pretty good start.
“I feel great,” Edwards said. “I feel like I’m full speed, I feel like I can jump however high I need to make plays and get around. I just feel like my athletic ability is there again. Last year I just wasn’t able really to jump, move, make certain cuts, so I’m a much different player this year than last year.”
Edwards began the 2011 season hoping to be the 49ers go-to receiver, but only two games into the season, he injured the meniscus in his right knee and needed surgery. Edwards made it back late in the season, but was never fully healthy, and was eventually released prior to San Francisco’s final preseason game.
Edwards believes the 49ers downplayed his injury, leading to the perception that he was just losing it as a receiver, and not that he was fighting through a knee injury that never fully healed.
“I’m just happy this organization gave me a chance to showcase that,” Edwards said. “Last year, I don’t think the San Francisco 49ers did a good enough job in terms of putting it out there that I really was hurt. I had knee surgery, it kept me out for seven weeks. I rushed back, tried to play, forced it, and it just didn’t work. It was just kind of under the rug and quiet, that’s why everybody is asking me about the injury. It feels good to be healthy and just be able to show that last year was definitely the injury.”
Again, it’s way too early to say that Edwards is ready to return to his 2007, or even 2010 form, but what he has been able to do so far is very encouraging for a team that came into the season with serious question marks at receiver. When the Seahawks first worked out Edwards and Antonio Bryant, then signed only Bryant, who had been out of the NFL for two years, the easy joke was, ‘Wow, how bad is Edwards these days if Bryant beat him out?’
However, Edwards signed not long after Bryant and outlasted him, as well as future Hall of Famer Terrell Owens. In fact, on the day Owens arrived at training camp, a day that was as big of media circus as this team has seen in recent years, Edwards quietly had perhaps his best practice to date while everyone was paying attention to Owens.
And long after Bryant was gone, and while Owens was struggling to get on the same page with Seattle’s quarterbacks, it was Edwards who was making big plays, and who eventually was the last man standing in Seattle’s let’s-kick-the-tires-and-see-what-he’s-still-got receiver evaluations.
“Braylon has given us a boost with the big play stuff down the field,” Carroll said. “I talked about how we missed Mike (Williams) and that presence of that substantial guy that can get up off the ground and make things happen, and Braylon has done that. That’s a great addition to our group so we’re getting there.”
Perhaps most important to the Seahawks’ hopes for offensive improvement is the fact that Edwards has earned the trust of starting quarterback Russell Wilson. On multiple occasions in preseason games and practice, Wilson has thrown deep to Edwards when he sees one-on-one coverage whether Edwards has been open or not. And quite frequently, Edwards has come down with the ball.
“Braylon’s a very intelligent person, a very intelligent football player,” Wilson said. “He’s obviously got unbelievable skills. He’s played in the National Football League for an extended period of time now. He’s doing a great job for our football team and we’ve worked on that — ever since Day 1 that he’s gotten here.
“A lot of great things he’s doing right now. He’s got unbelievable speed, great hands. He can go up and get the football. When you have guys like that, that really helps.”
Edwards is off to a good start in Seattle, but also knows nothing is given at this point in his career. Right now he’s behind Golden Tate on the depth chart, but says he’s enjoying the competition between him, Tate and the rest of the receivers. Starting job or not, however, Edwards has done enough to secure a roster spot, and with that comes a chance to prove himself, to prove he still has plenty of big plays and touchdowns left in him. And for now, that’s enough.
“I definitely wasn’t healthy last year,” he said. “I never really got a chance to get healthy. So now with the offseason, I was able to rehab, have another surgery, get healthy and come out here and actually be able to showcase who I really am.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: email@example.com.