By Stephanie Storm
Beacon Journal sports writer
Rookie Julian Edelman is the player the New England Patriots are counting on to replace injured Pro Bowl receiver Wes Welker in the playoffs.
Edelman, the former Kent State quarterback, is built like Welker at 6-foot, 198 pounds, but Edelman's college coach, Doug Martin, has some advice about stepping in for Welker.
Just be yourself in the game Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.
''The three best players I've coached are (quarterback) David Garrard of Jacksonville, (kick returner) Josh Cribbs of the Browns and Julian Edelman — and all three have that competitive edge,'' Martin said Thursday morning during a feature on Edelman on ESPN's First Take television show.
''But Julian took that to a different level. He plays with such a chip on his shoulder. . . . I've never seen a player change the entire mentality of a football team the way he did.''
Edelman was selected in the seventh round of the draft by the Patriots last April, and he started training camp on the special teams' punt return unit.
He then lost valuable time early to an ankle injury and then to a broken arm before winning the backup job to Welker, the NFL's leading receiver with 123 receptions for 1,348 yards and four touchdowns.
It took some faith, but Patriots Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio said he saw the possibility of developing Edelman into a receiver when he scouted him in college.
''When you saw him play at Kent State, he was really good with the ball in his hands and he was good in space,'' Caserio said in conference call Monday. ''He had good quickness and he was a strong runner. . . . There was a little bit of a leap of faith, but we did our homework and we felt comfortable.''
Comfortable enough that when Welker suffered torn knee ligaments in the final game of the regular season last week against the Houston Texans, Edelman stepped in and went on to have a career game with 10 receptions for 103 yards.
Edelman finished his first NFL regular season with 37 catches for 359 yards and a touchdown. He also recorded 11 kickoff returns for 241 yards and six punt returns for 63 yards.
Yet, after the Patriots fell 34-27 to the Texans, the depth of Edelman's competitiveness showed in his curt response to reporters question about how good he felt he played in his big performance.
''Obviously not good enough,'' he said. ''We lost.''
Edelman received some impressive praise from Patriots coach Bill Belichick during a news conference Wednesday when he was asked about Edelman's development.
''He's done a really good job for us this year, considering the fact that a year ago at this time, I don't think he had ever played receiver before,'' Belichick said.
''(He was) an option quarterback who came in and really learned a lot about the receiver techniques and about offense from a receiver's point of view. Both things are very hard, and he's done an outstanding job of it. . . . He's developed about as quickly as you could hope for, for a guy who's never played that position before.''
When Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis was asked about preparing for the Patriots without Welker this week, he didn't hesitate to point out Edelman's contributions in place of Welker last Sunday.
''They have another young guy, No. 11, who comes in and does a great job,'' Lewis said. ''I don't think he has to be Wes Welker. . . . You see this young kid, he comes in and he has kind of the same chemistry [with quarterback Tom Brady] as Wes Welker has. So we just have to understand to come and play the New England Patriots in totality.''
Then there's Brady, who's become comfortable enough with Edelman to joke about him like a big brother might in a conference call Wednesday.
''It's pretty remarkable what he's done as a former quarterback, which I don't know how he was a former quarterback because he can't throw at all,'' Brady said. ''He tries to tell me, 'Yeah, I threw for 2,000 yards.' I'm like, 'Man, you can't hit that wall over there.' And yet he somehow was playing. I'm just glad he plays receiver and not quarterback anymore — for his sake and our sake.''
Of course, it never mattered to Martin where Edelman played (he returned punts his last four games with the Flashes to showcase his versatility a-la-Cribbs to pro scouts), just that Edelman now plays where Martin has always felt he's belonged — in the NFL.