If you tune in for tonight’s preseason-opener, keep an eye for a familiar face inside a New York Jets helmet.
That would be A.J. Edds, who is trying to restart an NFL career twice derailed by injuries.
Signed to a free-agent contract May 19, the former Greenwood Community High School and University of Iowa star is expected to be on the field tonight when the Jets host the Indianapolis Colts.
For how long or in what setting — special teams, defense or both — is unclear. But it’s reasonable to assume the exhibition opener is an ideal time for the Jets to take an extended look at fringe players.
A 6-foot-4, 256-pound linebacker, Edds joined the Jets after impressing coaches during a tryout at rookie minicamp. One of 37 noncontract players invited to the audition, he was one of only two invited back for training camp.
Although being part of the 90-man training camp roster hardly guarantees a spot on the final 53-man active roster, Jets coach Rex Ryan gushed about Edds after bringing him on board.
“I really like this linebacker from Iowa, Edds,” Ryan told the Newark Star-Ledger after the tryout. “Really a smart guy, and he looks like he’s got some physical tools as well, but he’s been sharp. We’ve actually been playing him as a (strong-side) linebacker all through this camp and today during practice we just threw him in at (weak-side linebacker).
“We hadn’t even discussed it, and he’s on top of it. He’s able to take, grasp, not just his thing, but see the overall picture of a defense. That’s important because a lot of times, sometimes on that roster, you need guys to play multiple positions, and he’s been impressive that way to me. So, of all the guys, I think he’s really jumped out to me probably more than any of them.”
For Edds, the opportunity is his best — and perhaps last — chance to return to the NFL since entering it in 2010 as a fourth-round draft pick by the Miami Dolphins.
Injuries have been obstacles ever since.
During the first week of his first training camp, Edds suffered a left ACL tear and missed his entire rookie season.
Instead of allowing it to be a career-ending setback, he rehabbed — on his own — during the lockout campaign of 2011 and returned in time for Miami’s training camp.
Then, things got really crazy.
After surviving the final cut of training camp, Edds was released a few days before the season-opener — a Monday night game against the New England Patriots. By the time that game kicked off, Edds was in a Patriots uniform and still made his NFL debut on Monday Night Football.
Relegated to New England’s practice squad a few weeks later, Edds was signed off of it by the Colts. He played in nine games, mostly on special teams, and seemed to have found a home.
But on the opening day of training camp in 2012, he tore his right ACL, missed the entire season and wasn’t re-signed.
Given a second chance by the Patriots in 2013, Edds was released during training camp and wound up waiting for an opportunity with another team that never materialized.
Consequently, he sat out the entire season.
Yet he still didn’t give up.
Determined to take one last stab at playing, Edds, 26, spent the last two seasons rehabbing and working out. When the Jets extended the invitation, he was in perhaps the best shape of his life. It showed at the tryout and paid a dividend in a contract.
That was Step 1. Step 2 begins tonight with the preseason.
Stay tuned for the next bold step.
The journey back might be just beginning.
Rick Morwick is sports editor for the Daily Journal. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.