INDIANAPOLIS — Few Patriots spend more time in their playbook than WR Julian Edelman. Well, in the case of Edelman, make that "playbooks" — plural.
New England's third-year wide receiver, a converted option quarterback at Kent State, is a throwback player. He does whatever head coach Bill Belichick asks — whether it be catching passes from QB Tom Brady, playing bump-and-run coverage as a slot cornerback, returning punts or chasing down opposing returners.
It's no wonder Patriots DB coach Josh Boyer said on Wednesday that Edelman is consistently one of the first players at the facility and one of the last to leave.
"It's just like school; you just have to study," said Edelman of his constant back-and-forth between different meeting rooms and discussions with different coaches. "You have to take the extra time to look at each phase of the game, and that's our job — our job is to prepare and try to execute what the coaches give us. And by doing that, I have to study a little harder, so that's what I do."
On a star-studded offense, playing behind arguably the best slot receiver in the game in Wes Welker, Edelman can easily get lost in the mix. He caught just four passes during the regular season. So he jumps at every opportunity to get on the field, no matter what type of grunt work is required.
In the AFC championship game, he found himself matched up late in the game one-on-one against former Pro Bowl WR Anquan Boldin. While Boldin helped move the Ravens quickly downfield, grabbing four balls for 60 yards, Boyer preferred to discuss Edelman's forced fumble on Boldin's final catch. Baltimore recovered, but Edelman prevented Boldin from getting the first down, and two plays later, PK Billy Cundiff missed a chip shot, sending the Patriots to Indianapolis.
That physicality is part of what allows Edelman to contribute on defense. "One of the things with Julian — and this was very evident on offense — he is a pretty good blocker on run plays. He is physical, isn't afraid to get in there. He'd been used on special teams, coverage teams; he'd been in tackling drills, so that wasn't that big of a concern. We thought he was a very capable tackler; he is not afraid to get hands on guys when he is up at the line of scrimmage."
While Welker is the game's top slot receiver, Edelman will loom large in the Super Bowl, trying to slow down perhaps the NFL's No. 2 slot receiver, emerging star Victor Cruz.
"He not only plays in the slot, he plays outside, he's explosive, he has great short-area quickness," said Edelman when asked about his difficult assignment. "He sets up his routes really well. He's definitely a great player, and we are going to have to prepare hard for him.
Time will soon tell if Edelman can help slow down Cruz. One thing is assured: Preparing hard won't be an issue.