It seems like every time I ask a Michigan football coach what’s happening with Braylon Edwards, I get the same response: “Next question.”
OK. Fine. I’ll ask another one: Who is Braylon Edwards?
It’s a question that is almost impossible to answer right now – for me, for the Michigan coaching staff and likely, for Braylon himself.
He talks the talk of a star, and if you saw him strut out of the Michigan lockerroom after Saturday’s game, you’d say he walks the walk, too.
Sporting two shiny studs in his ears and braids styled with precision and care, Edwards would make even R. Kelly proud. He dodges me like a seasoned veteran who’s been dealing with the media for years.
“Come on Braylon, just two minutes?” I say, just wanting to get inside his head for a few precious moments. “I … I … I can’t do it today … can’t do it today,” he says, walking hot and fresh out the kitchen into a throng of fans.
Edwards has created the image of a superstar. He wanted the No. 1 jersey and the bullseye that comes with it. From signalling a first down after a catch to making a circus out of a simple touchdown grab, it’s as if Edwards is screaming, “Look at me!”
We’re looking, but half the time, we can’t even find Edwards on the field.
Saturday’s exhausting, 31-17 win against Indiana was the second time Edwards has spent major parts of a game on the sidelines, the first coming against Central Michigan.
Michigan coach Lloyd Carr has admitted he and Edwards aren’t “on the same page,” but what does that really mean?
Let’s do a little detective work.
April 2003: Carr gives Edwards the No. 1 jersey, showing faith in his best receiver to be more than just a great receiver – a leader on and off the field. He jokes that if Edwards can’t handle the responsibility, he’ll take the No. 1 away.
Central Michigan game: Edwards plays mostly in crucial situations – third downs and on the goalline – and scores two touchdowns. After the game, Edwards says there were no discipline problems keeping him from playing. He gets frustrated when sportswriters ask him about dropped balls: “Why do you always have to be focusing on the negatives?”
You asked for it, you got it, No. 1.
Oregon game: Without Edwards’ 13-catch, 144-yard performance, there’s no way the Wolverines make a comeback in the second half. He made catches that defied our imagination, but, as is the custom, dropped some balls he could have caught. Regardless of the drops, Edwards left little doubt his heart was in every play. After the game ended, Edwards turned around, leaned his head against the Autzen Stadium wall and stood motionless. He was crushed.
Carr would not answer questions about Edwards in the post-game press conference. Could he have been disappointed with Edwards’ performance? It has to be something deeper than just dropped balls.
Last Monday, Carr finally weighed in on Edwards, saying “the only issue” is that Edwards has trouble being on time. On time, as in, Edwards shows up late to practice? Or, on time, as in, Edwards makes catches that he shouldn’t make and drops balls he shouldn’t drop? Somebody help me with all of this Football-speak.
Carr continued with more coded speech.
“He has a challenge, and he’ll meet that challenge,” Carr said. “He knows the expectations and he’s working hard to meet them. If you’re working as hard as you can, then you’re successful.”
So … the fact that Edwards didn’t play until six minutes were left in the second quarter should tell us that he’s not working as hard as he can?
Edwards caught three passes for 42 yards in limited action, including a touchdown on a pristine route. After the game, wide receivers coach Erik Campbell wouldn’t talk about Edwards. Carr said Edwards, who is nursing a dislocated finger, had a “rough” week of practice, and there is a lot of competition at his position.
So … Tyrece Butler, Calvin Bell, Carl Tabb and Jermaine Gonzales were above Edwards on the depth chart because they’d outplayed him at practice? Somehow, I find that hard to believe.
Stan Edwards, Braylon’s father and a former Michigan running back, is as perplexed as I am. Stan Edwards said that when his son wasn’t playing in the first quarter, he thought the coaches had decided not to play Braylon against Indiana because of his finger. But “if (the finger is) hurting in the first quarter, it’s hurting in the second quarter, too,” Stan said.
Stan wasn’t tiptoeing around his son’s issue.
“(He has to) learn what the coaches want him to do,” Stan explained. “Learn how to master the mental part off the football field. He asked for the focus to be on him when he asked for the number one, and there are responsibilities on him that aren’t on other people. He’s learning that. This is valuable.
“It’s his time at U of M. He has to work it out.”
Stan Edwards is right. It is Braylon’s time, but how much patience will the Michigan coaches and fans have if this continues?
Students are turning on him. They are fed up with his inconsistency. The great catches show what he could be every down.
A friend of mine took out his frustration in Playstation2’s NCAA 2004. He changed Edwards’ jersey back to No. 80 and gave Steve Breaston the No. 1.
If Edwards’ “maturation process” keeps plodding along at its current rate, Carr just might do the same.
J. Brady McCollough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.