Rookie running back Gus Edwards has been the target of teasing from teammates since his breakout game Sunday.
As Edwards was being interviewed, rookie linebacker Kenny Young pulled out his cellphone and placed it underneath Edwards’ chin like a reporter poised to ask the next question. Another teammate screamed “Big-Time!” at Edwards from across the locker room.
“They’re just messing with me,” Edwards said smiling.
Don’t expect Edwards to be fazed by the sudden attention or the teasing. Whether he’s deflecting jokes or shedding tacklers, Edwards comes off about as low-key as you can get. He often answers questions with the brevity of a tweet – 140 characters or less.
But Edwards loudly announced himself to the NFL world Sunday with 115 yards on 17 carries, including an 11-yard touchdown run and a two-point conversion run in the Ravens’ 24-21 victory.
Jackson was the game’s offensive co-star with rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson, who was making his first NFL start. For Jackson, the attention was nothing new. He’s a first-round pick, a former Heisman Trophy winner with 289K Twitter followers playing the league’s glamour position. But the spotlight was foreign for Edwards, an undrafted free agent from Rutgers who began the season on the practice squad.
How did Edwards celebrate his best NFL game to date?
“Celebrate?” Edwards said. “Nah, it’s just one game. We’re in the season. We don’t have time to celebrate.”
The coaching staff witnessed that serious approach from Edwards for weeks, as he quietly handled his business in practice, stacking one good day after another. Edwards had just 15 carries all season heading into Sunday’s game, but the Ravens turned him loose coming out of their bye week. The result was a manifestation of Edwards’ hard work.
“It’s not like all of a sudden guys just show up and they play well,” Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “Players say that sometimes, ‘Just give me a chance!’ You get a chance every day in practice. Go out there and dominate. Gus has been doing that. He’s been doing it in practice, he’s been doing it in special teams, and he’s been doing it in the few carries he’s had in games. It has been a goal to get him more carries in games before this. It wasn’t like this happened in the last week or two, it’s been probably two months that he’s been doing it.”
Being an unheralded rookie gives Edwards extra motivation to prove he belongs. Another source of inspiration is his 1-year-old son, Augustus Jr. Yes, Gus’s full first name is Augustus. Asked what it felt like to be a father, Edwards’ poker face suddenly lit up.
“It’s great,” Edwards said. “It’s a major blessing. He’s fun to be around, gives me a lot of energy, keeps me up when I have something to be down about.”
A native of Staten Island, N.Y., Edwards played his first three seasons of college eligibility at Miami (Fla.), recruited by former Hurricanes coach Al Golden, who is now the linebackers coach for the Detroit Lions.
“I knew I could trust Coach Golden because he was a local guy from New Jersey,” Edwards said. “I loved it there. I had great four years of my life. I ended up getting my degree (liberal arts) and met some great people there.”
Edwards rushed for 977 yards and 12 touchdowns during his three seasons at Miami, but was never the featured back. He lost the entire 2015 season to a foot injury, leaving him one year of eligibility following his last season at Miami in 2016.
He went to Rutgers as a graduate transfer in 2017 to be closer to family in New York and had his best college season (713 yards on 164 carries), putting himself on the radar for the draft. But after going undrafted, Edwards signed as a free agent with the Ravens partly due to the relationship he built with Running Backs Coach Thomas Hammock during the draft process.
“I got comfortable with Coach Thomas and felt this was a good spot to come to,” Edwards said. “It’s been great. He knows a lot about the game. He’s made me better. I’m just trying to take everything that he’s teaching me.”
The Ravens have a crowded running back rotation with Edwards, Alex Collins, Javorius Allen and Ty Montgomery on the active roster. Kenneth Dixon also returned to practice last week and could be activated off injured reserve before the season ends.
But Edwards’ power running style and Jackson’s elusiveness made for the Ravens’ most effective rushing combination this season. According to Pro Football Focus, Edwards’ 6.8 yards per carry and 5.4 yards per rush after initial contact were the most of any running back in the NFL in Week 11. He forced eight missed tackles on just 17 runs.
Edwards is no longer running under the radar. And for the Ravens, that could be a good thing.
“That’s a great lesson for any young player,” Harbaugh said. “If you want to play, play well. Play well in practice every day and stack days and earn trust. He’s done a good job of that. He has to build on that. I love what he said. He’s not sitting there reading his press clippings. His focus is on becoming a better player tomorrow than he was today.”