Well before Julian Edelman cut back to the inside of the field in the blink of an eye, en route to a 75-yard punt return in the second quarter of Thursday’s preseason win in Philadelphia, the Patriots rookie had already served notice of his potential.
Watching back at Kent State University, in Ohio, Edelman’s college coach saw it right away, as his onetime quarterback flew downfield to make the game’s opening tackle on special teams.
“I came into the coach’s office and said, ‘Guys, I promise you the first thing Julian mentions will be that he made the first tackle of the game,’” said Golden Flashes head coach Doug Martin, with a chuckle.
Sure enough, when Martin answered Edelman’s phone call Friday morning, hello was replaced with, “Coach did you see my tackle?”
“He is one of the best pure football players I’ve ever been around,” gushes Martin, who has coached proven NFL players like Jaguars quarterback David Garrard and Browns do-everything man Joshua Cribbs.
“I’ve coached better quarterbacks, but I don’t know that I’ve been around a better competitor than Julian.”
Cribbs, himself, was a pretty solid quarterback at Kent State, but his future in the NFL was not under center. In fact, Cribbs once told me back in college that he’d play center if that is what it took to land on an NFL roster.
I laughed, but Cribbs was dead serious.
Martin saw that similar willingness in Edelman after the coaching staff determined last season that it would be best for Julian to spend his last four collegiate games returning punts, giving NFL scouts a better look at his versatility.
“He was thrilled – if you told him to line up to play nose guard, he’d do that,” says Martin. “He scared a lot of people back there.”
In his short time as a Patriots rookie, Edelman has impressed plenty of people on the Foxboro practice field. Starting in Wes Welker’s place against the Eagles, he backed up the hype by collecting 136 all-purpose yards. He lined up in the slot, slipping tacklers all night, and catching five passes for 37 yards. He showed quickness and a tantalizing burst of speed – just ask the Eagles special teamers he scattered in his wake on that 75-yard punt return.
He even reminded some of Welker. Or how about Cribbs?
“Julian’s a little bit more elusive, Josh is a little bit more athletic,” says Martin, adding that Cribbs went to great lengths to act as a mentor as Edelman switched from quarterback.
After his NFL preseason debut, Edelman kept predictably humble about his efforts.
"I have a long way to go," said Edelman to a throng of intrigued reporters gathered around his locker. "I have a lot to learn. That play — the punt return — everyone just executed the play the way we designed it to be. One thing led to another, [it was] totally a team effort.”
Already sounds like a Patriot, doesn’t he?
Of course, Edelman is aware that seventh round draft picks don’t turn into NFL stars overnight. Rarely ever, to be honest.
His personality is one that won’t allow himself to get caught up in one preseason game, no matter how impressive he looked. But, just as the undrafted Cribbs transformed himself into a Pro Bowl special teamer, the potential is undeniably there with Edelman.
“Talent wise, he could have an incredible role, he could be a guy that could change a game,” says Martin. “But I think Julian understands that it’s up to him. That’s the thing I always appreciated about Julian, he’s going to show up with his lunch pail and go to work.”