Columbus' Edwards appreciating long NFL career

2014-07-05T20:00:00Z 2014-07-05T23:45:05Z Columbus' Edwards appreciating long NFL careerBy BILL BIGHAUS The Billings Gazette

His 2013 National Football League season was unfortunately interrupted by an injury, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a “wow” moment or two along the way for Montana native Dwan Edwards.

In early November, the veteran defensive tackle for the Carolina Panthers sacked 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick twice in a thrilling 10-9 win at San Francisco. A couple of weeks later, he helped seal another Carolina victory against the Miami Dolphins with a sack of quarterback Ryan Tannehill on the game’s final play.

“Well, I’m good,” the 6-foot-3, 305-pound Edwards replied with a laugh, when asked recently about how his time on the field — which was cut short five games by a hamstring strain — was so well spent.

“When I’m healthy and matched up with the guys that we’ve got in our front seven, it’s just really a great opportunity for me to be able to do some of the things that I do well — penetrate and be a guy that makes plays for our team.”

The 33-year-old Edwards, who was born in Billings and grew up in Columbus, put on his free Dwan Edwards Elite Football Camp for nearly 340 youngsters — including his 10-year-old son, DJ — last weekend in Billings. The popular one-day camp, held on Wendy’s Field at Daylis Stadium, is now in its seventh year.

Fresh out of the Panthers’ minicamps and Organized Team Activities, Edwards is not only a tremendous goodwill ambassador for the NFL, but he has also turned hard work into a solid 11-year playing career.

He is now gearing up for training camp, with the first practice set for July 25 at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C. This will be Edwards’ third season with Carolina, which is one of the NFL’s top teams.

“It went well,” he said of the recent minicamps and OTAs. “The hamstring felt great. I’m looking forward to hopefully playing a full 16 (regular-season) games.”

Edwards’ next tackle will be the 300th of his productive 108-game NFL career, which also includes stops in Baltimore and Buffalo. His next sack will be his 10th since the 2012 season.

His next start will be his 65th overall.

“I’m about as confident as I’ve ever been playing football,” he said. “I know for a fact, if I can stay healthy I can have a great year.”

With all the recent excitement surrounding Josh Huestis of Great Falls being taken in the first round of the NBA Draft by Oklahoma City, it’s probably a good time to also acknowledge and appreciate that Edwards is well on his way to being one of the best NFL players the state has ever produced.

“I’m very appreciative — and I definitely don’t take it for granted,” he reflected on his longevity in a league, where NFL often means Not For Long and the average stay is usually three years.

“To still be standing here going into my 11th year is just amazing,” Edwards said of defying the odds. “I’m very thankful, and I have been very blessed to really just be around great guys that showed me how to do it — be a professional day-in and day-out and take care of myself.”

Besides being — as Edwards put it — “good,” there has been another compelling component to his game since his days at Oregon State, and in the years that followed after being taken in the second round of the NFL Draft by the Baltimore Ravens in 2004.

“I really think that at every point I’ve ever been, I’ve always had some kind of chip on my shoulder,” he said.

It started when — as a humble player from a small Montana town — he headed off to play and prove himself at Oregon State, where he developed into a two-time All-Pac-10 selection.

That chip was still there, though, when he was drafted 51st overall by the Ravens.

“Things didn’t go quite as well my first year (in Baltimore), so just always feeling like you’ve got something to prove, I think that’s what keeps me sharp and motivated and just pushing myself to be in shape.”

These days, the never-complacent Edwards rotates in and out of a sack-happy Carolina defense that ranked No. 2 in the NFL last season — and is aiming to be No. 1.

“That’s our goal,” Edwards said. “We feel we have the personnel and depth to really cause a lot of offenses a lot of trouble.”

The Panthers, who went 12-4 in the regular season, won the NFC South and lost to San Francisco in the divisional playoffs. They ranked second defensively behind Super Bowl champion Seattle.

“The way our defense plays, it’s going to keep us in most games,” Edwards said of his aggressive teammates. “For us to really be that dominant defense and be in position where we could make it to the Super Bowl, we definitely have to just get better.

“We finished number two last year — the only place to go is up.”

Edwards played in 12 games for the Panthers last season — including a start in the postseason clash against San Francisco. He had missed weeks three through eight with his hamstring injury.

“You definitely feel, especially when you’re winning and you’re not playing, that they might not need you that much ... you’re not as valuable as you think you might be,” he said. “To get back and be able to contribute and help our team win, it means everything.”

Edwards, who had 19 tackles, three sacks, 15 quarterback pressures and two fumble recoveries along the way, will become a free agent in 2015. He really isn’t looking to go anywhere, though.

“They’ve been great to me ever since I’ve been there,” he said of the Panthers. “I’ve probably had my most productive football these last few years playing for them.

“I like the direction our team is going. If we continue to make strides, it’s definitely a place I would like to stay.”

And add to an already remarkable list of NFL accomplishments.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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