OWINGS MILLS — Week 11 was when it all changed for the Baltimore Ravens.
The attention fell mostly upon first-year quarterback Lamar Jackson, who replaced long-time starter Joe Flacco that day, but another rookie also burst onto the scene.
Gus Edwards, an undrafted free agent out of Rutgers, ran for 115 yards on 17 carries (6.8 average) and a touchdown during the Ravens’ 24-21 win over the Cincinnati Bengals that day. He eclipsed the century mark again the following week, cementing himself as the feature back on a Ravens’ team that adopted a new ground-and-pound offense to win six of their final seven games and sneak back into the playoffs for the first time since 2014.
Edwards and Jackson combined to rush for 1,413 yards last season, with Jackson relying on his remarkable speed and shiftiness while the running back used a more physical, bruising style.
“Gus is a downhill, power runner,” running backs coach Matt Weiss said Tuesday. “[He is] the punishing type of runner, who you watch the film, and you tell me who is hitting who. That’s kind of his specialty.”
Edwards ran for 718 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie, despite spending the first five weeks of the season on the practice squad. He rushed for over 100 yards three times in the final seven games.
It seemed like he had a grasp on the starting job entering Year 2, but the Ravens landed one of the top running backs available in free agency in Mark Ingram. The two-time Pro Bowler inked a three-year, $15 million deal.
“I don’t expect anything less than it being a whole lot of competition. We make each other better that way,” Edwards said. “I feel like I’m still fighting to get myself a role on the team. I’m just ready to do whatever the coaches ask me to do.”
Edwards called Ingram the leader of the group. The veteran coaches the second-year back after just about every rep.
Aside from Ingram’s addition, the Ravens also drafted Oklahoma State running back Justice Hill in the fourth round. Edwards prepared for the added competition by slimming down over the offseason.
“I’d say Gus is probably the most improved player of the group,” Weiss said. “He’s catching the ball very well. His pass protection, which was something we really didn’t ask him to do last year, has been very good, and I can’t wait to see him do it in the preseason games, see how that goes. Those two areas have been great.
“At the end of the day, he knows he still has to be the downhill, punishing runner that he is, and he will be.”
“The other thing I’d say about Gus is that he’s probably the hardest working guy, one of the hardest working players, I’ve ever been around. He comes to work every day, and it’s just all business. He does everything that’s asked and then some, and that really pays off,” he said. “If you’re a fan of old-school Ravens football and a punishing run game and hard work and that’s what you’re about, you should get a Gus Edwards jersey, because that’s what he’s about. I’ve been really impressed with him.”
Edwards caught two passes for 20 yards as a rookie. He had just 13 receptions for 103 yards and one touchdown as a senior at Rutgers.
The Ravens are expected to be a run-first team this year as Greg Roman transitions to offensive coordinator, meaning all their running backs should receive ample opportunity. Baltimore relied heavily on its run games once Jackson replaced Flacco last season, and Roman has guided some of the NFL’s best rushing offenses in San Francisco (2011-14) and Buffalo (2015-16).
“It’s just like building off where we ended up last year,” Edwards said of the new offensive system. “There are a lot of things we’re doing the same, but we just made little changes here and there.”
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