Surviving Camp Part 1: T.J. Edwards learns to fulfill rookie duties


Over the next few weeks of training camp, as the Eagles try to decide who to keep on their 53-man roster, we’ll be catching up weekly with undrafted rookie linebacker T.J. Edwards from Wisconsin to track his progress as he tries to make the Eagles’ roster. 

T.J. Edwards ducked out of the late-morning sun and found a respite in some shade to finish answering questions. The rookie linebacker from Wisconsin took the opportunity to carefully place the shoulder pads belonging to his veteran teammates on the ground for safe keeping until he could return them inside.

Just as he was finishing his answer about how much he had been looking forward to those pads coming on in training camp as he tries to push for a roster spot this summer, one of those veterans began walking toward the building. 

“Hey, make sure he gets our Rita’s,” veteran linebacker Zach Brown shouted. “I need my mango on point!”

Yes, rookie duties weren’t yet over and a short while later, Edwards emerged from the air-conditioned NovaCare Complex through those same doors with an empty tray in hand.  

If this is as bad as it gets for a rookie, it’s not so bad. 

“Just gotta pay your dues like everyone before you,” Edwards said. 

As a rookie, it’s Edwards’ job to carry the veteran linebackers’ pads after practice and, yes, to get them a frozen treat, but his real job this offseason is football. This is the first time in his life that football is a job and he’d like to keep it that way for as long as possible. 

Despite an incredibly productive career at the University of Wisconsin and despite some analysts thinking he could be a mid-round pick, Edwards never heard his name called during the draft. In the sixth round, when the Eagles were out of picks, they were in contact with Edwards’ agent and he signed with the Birds shortly after the draft completed. The disappointment of not getting drafted was short-lived. 

“I think just that day it was hard to not think about,” Edwards said. “When I woke up, it was like, ‘There are worse spots to be in.’ All you really want is an opportunity and I was glad I got that.”

Edwards arrived to Philadelphia for rookie minicamp and went through the entire spring with the team before going back home to Illinois during the long break before training camp. About three or four times per week, he worked out at NX Level Sports Performance Training in Wisconsin with a few of his former Badgers teammates: T.J. Watt, Derek Watt and Conor Sheehy. 

Aside from the on-field things Edwards wanted to improve, he really wanted to get a better understanding of the playbook and the Eagles’ scheme. He thinks the latter will help the former. 

“I just wanted to make sure my mental game was strong and I was getting to a point where I could react,” he said. “I’m not there yet but I’m just getting better each day.”

There are questions about the Eagles’ depth at linebacker, so there appears to be some opportunity for Edwards to make the team if he has a good camp and a good preseason. He tries to avoid thinking about all that, though. He doesn’t want to overthink. He just wants to be at his best and hope for the best outcome. 

Besides, he has plenty of other things to worry about like football, water ice and the rookie talent show. A few fellow rookies have already performed in front of the veterans with varying levels of success; some were bad, some added pressure. Without divulging it, Edwards said he has a plan for his performance when his name is called. 

“I’m sure I’ll be a whole different person next week,” Edwards said.

For now, he’s just the 22-year-old rookie fighting every day to make a name for himself and find a home in the NFL. In the middle of it all, he even got to try his first Italian ice.

“I went with mango,” he said. “That’s what all the vets were going with.”

See … he’s learning already. 

Goal for next week: “I think I have every play down, knowing what to do and how to do it, but there are certain details in each play that I want to get more comfortable with. Not just playing MIKE, but knowing what the SAM and WILL are doing, too. I think just getting more comfortable with the schemes in general has been what my goal has been. Every day I’ve been getting better and better at it, so I’m really confident with how I’m doing.”

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