(May 19)—Troy Edwards must feel as though his career is the football equivalent of the movie "Groundhog Day."
Edwards was coming off a productive rookie season with the Steelers in 1999 when the Steelers made wide receiver Plaxico Burress the eighth pick of the 2000 draft. It was a move that perplexed Edwards, who caught 61 passes as a first-round pick in '99 and appeared to be on his way to a long and productive career in Pittsburgh.
It didn't turn out that way. Two years later Edwards was traded to the St. Louis Rams and a year after that he was cut by the Rams and claimed by the Jaguars, with whom Edwards' career got a second wind last season when he caught 35 passes for 487 yards and three touchdowns. He started 11 games and finished the season number one on the depth chart at the "Z" receiver position.
So what happened in the offseason? Well, the Jaguars made wide receiver Reggie Williams the ninth pick of the draft.
Bzzzz! Off goes the alarm and Edwards becomes Bill Murray.
"I've been down this road before, but now I'm married and have two kids and I'm more of a man. I'm not going to drop my head, back down and let him have it," Edwards said of Williams and the starting job everyone but Edwards has conceded to the Jags' first-round pick.
Edwards' downfall in Pittsburgh was that he let the Burress pick get to him. He sulked in a game that makes no allowance for feeling bad. Even though Burress struggled through his rookie season with a wrist injury, Edwards failed to seize the opportunity to establish his presence in the lineup. His production fell to a mere 18 catches.
Now, as a wily five-year veteran who has spent time on the "street" and is desperate not to have that happen to him again, Edwards is ready for the challenge Williams presents. In this week's passing camp practices, Edwards is all smiles. He's a bundle of energy, flashing across the field and catching everything thrown in his direction. Mostly, he is holding on tight to his starting job, as Williams must sit out practices until his college class graduates.
"He's going to be a fine player, but I'm not fighting for third receiver. I'm not going to give him the job before he earns it. I think I'm good enough to play," Edwards said, drawing a competitive line in the sand between he and Williams, considered to be the team's play-maker of the future.
This is a team that is all of a sudden deep at the wide receiver positions. Veteran Jimmy Smith is in tip-top shape and floating across the field as he had during the Jaguars' glory days. Fourth-round draft pick Ernest Wilford has the big body the contemporary game loves, and a couple of undrafted guys (Matt Cherry and Allen Suber) have earned notice.
And then there's Cortez Hankton, last summer's undrafted surprise. Hankton has been lights out in this week's two passing camp practices.
"I feel a lot more comfortable now so I'm able to play a little bit faster. Hopefully, I can catch 30 balls and be the third receiver. I do want to be in Jacksonville," Hankton said of his goals.
Hankton made 17 catches for 166 yards last year. That was just enough to give reason to believe Hankton can be a big-time player.
"I think bringing in new people, all it does is produce a competitive atmosphere and I perform my best when I have competition, so all it does is bring the best out in me," Hankton said.
If it does the same for Williams, wide receiver could become the most competitive position on the team.
In other news today, quarterback David Garrard met with reporters following practice. Garrard said he will undergo colon surgery on Thursday, May 27, at Jacksonville's Baptist Medical Center. The surgery will remove the portion of Garrard's colon that has been damaged by Crohn's Disease.
"The thing is I'm kind of in and out of the hospital, so the best thing now is to have surgery, remove the sick area and then I'll be done with it. The recovery period is about the middle of July," Garrard said, taking an optimistic view that he'll be ready to go when training camp begins.
Garrard was diagnosed in March to be suffering from Crohn's, which results in inflammation of the colon that requires control by medication. Though Crohn's is incurable, Garrard said surgery may alleviate the problem for the period of his playing career.
"It's a cure at this time," he said.
The disease could begin spreading to the undamaged portion of his colon that remains from surgery, but Garrard said that in many cases the disease did not spread.