Perhaps no other 2015 NFL Draft prospect had been scrutinized the way that Mario Edwards Jr. was this year.
Some questioned his motivation. Many pointed towards his diet. But Edwards is ready to earn his keep with the Raiders.
And starting off, Edwards is enjoying it. He said:
“I don’t really think it’s set in yet. I know I’m wearing Silver and Black, but it feels good. Working on a team with some of the people who I trained with, and people I know from previous teams, so it feels good.”
The Raiders are getting Edwards mixed into their schemes in rookie minicamp this week, helping him with the playbook, and working him into football shape.
Conditioning was the main concern of team’s who took a hard look at Edwards. He got up to 315 pounds during his final season at Florida State, and provided some ammo for analysts to use against him.
The bad side of the book on Edwards might read something like this:
“Does he have the dedication to maintain a functional weight? Underachieving traits and effort concerns are strong red flags. Questionable accountability puts his value in the third round.”
The Raiders took the better half of his novel, which included terms like:
“… powerful, forceful handed, physical punch with strong wrists, and versatile.”
Edwards says he won’t forget which part Oakland looked at when they drafted him 35th overall:
“They believed in me, and they gave me an opportunity and a chance. That’s all I needed was an opportunity to go out there and prove myself.”
That might come in handy while grinding through the highs and lows of a long and tough NFL season.
His father has kept his advice to a minimum so far, but offered these words to his son:
“Not only the minicamp, but the whole situation is that this is no longer a scholarship. You don’t have four years. This is your job. You don’t have school, and there’s no excuse for not knowing the plays. Approach it as a job and an opportunity to be there.”
Edwards Jr. carries himself well for someone who reached the legal drinking age less than a month ago.
He’s polite, open, and willing to talk about criticisms that would be difficult for many. Weight fluctuations being the biggest, which he has admitted was due to poor diet.
It didn’t hurt him at Florida State because they just wanted him to be able to do his job ± be a run stuffer with some pass rush ability.
Edwards Jr. was one of the most effective run stuffers in all of college over the past two seasons, but only recorded nine sacks during his four years as a Seminole.
Edwards Sr. played cornerback during his four years in the NFL, and before that. But the size of his son made it apparent by the time he was first able to get behind the wheel of a car, defensive lineman might be more reasonable:
“My freshman year in high school, I was about 6-foot-1 and weighed 215 pounds, and played defensive end and wide receiver. And then my sophomore year, I was at about 240. So I hung it up right there.”
Head coach Jack Del Rio won’t discuss any prior issues that Edwards has dealt with. His program, which is drastically different than the three previous years in Oakland, should be of some help.
Del Rio brought in a new conditioning staff, who previously worked at the most recognized pre-draft fitness company, EXOS training.
He also is changing the nutritional elements in the team’s practice facility, going for lean meals instead of Kinders sandwiches.
Del Rio said:
“To continue to bring up whatever negative things you can dig up from the past is not what we’re about. We’re about going forward from here.”
Del Rio added that he’s focused on helping him develop from prospect to professional. He also said:
“We think he’s a good young man, and we’re excited to work with him.”
Edwards will get the help of Sal Sunseri, who was one of his coaches at Florida State and now coaches linebackers for the Raiders, as well as defensive line coach Jethro Franklin.
The familiarity, Edwards says, has helped the transition.
So long as the Raiders and Edwards have their way, he’ll be proving all the naysayers wrong in no time.
Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of the Oakland Raiders.