Ron Edwards understood that the Panthers signed him last offseason in part to mentor a young group of defensive tackles.
He never could have predicted his role would be limited to that.
Edwards, a projected starter, missed all of last season after suffering a torn right triceps muscle during his first practice as a Panther at training camp. Edwards, however, proved to be an invaluable presence off the field, and now he can’t wait to help the Panthers on the field.
“I was still able to hang around all the players and get to know everybody last season, and now I’m getting ready for this season,” Edwards said. “My rehab is done. Everything feels normal again. Toward the end of the season, I felt like I was pretty much healed, but just a little weak. Now I’m just strengthening myself.”
While Edwards entered training camp last year with 10 NFL seasons under his belt, the three defensive tackles that made the 53-man roster – Sione Fua, Terrell McClain and Andre Neblett – had a total of one season of NFL experience.
Edwards started working with the trio as well as other training camp hopefuls during the first week of camp, a period in which veteran free agents weren’t allowed to practice per the league’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
When Edwards finally got on the practice field, his stay was short.
“I don’t remember exactly how it happened – I just remember it feeling strange,” Edwards said. “It just went numb. I thought I had probably just pulled something, so I kind of went easy on it but finished practice out.
“But the next day when I woke up, it was swollen. I went to (head athletic trainer) Ryan (Vermillion), and he said, ‘We need to take a look at it.’ ”
Edwards, who had played in all 80 regular season games over the previous five seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, soon learned he wouldn’t make his Panthers debut until 2012. He was placed on injured reserve.
Edwards could have retreated into his rehab, but he did just the opposite. The 315-pounder was everywhere.
“He was out there at practice every day and every meeting too, and he didn’t have to do that,” Fua said. “Pregame, he’d get hyped up with the rest of us, jumping around and dancing around. Then during the game he’d watch every play, and if he saw something, he would come by and tell us what we could do better or to congratulate us for a great play.
“He showed us how to be a pro defensive tackle.”
A third-round draft pick by the Buffalo Bills in 2001 out of Texas A&M, Edwards said being a mentor comes with the territory – even if missing the entire season was new territory for him.
“It was tough, but it’s a part of football. It’s something you have to go through sometimes and grow from,” Edwards said. “They brought me in for a purpose – an older guy coming into a group of younger guys with some experience to share.
“I took on a role geared toward helping out, just trying to use my knowledge to help other players throughout the season. I tried to put all of my experience into them and see if they could use it.”
Edwards marveled at the way the youngsters handled being thrown into the fire, an indoctrination that should pay dividends for the Panthers in the near future.
Now the youngsters are looking forward to seeing what Edwards will bring to the table.
“We’re going to have a full offseason, and it’s going to be exciting to see what we can do,” Edwards said. “I only have a few bullets left, so I’m going to be firing from all the chambers.
“We’ve got to get it done next year – all the way to the top.”