SPARTANBURG Ron Edwards makes a refrigerator look flimsy.
To say Edwards is 6-foot, 3 inches tall and weighs 325 pounds doesnt do justice to the defensive tackles true presence. He is thick and dense, good traits when your job demands you fill space and ward off offensive linemen intent on shoving you out of the way.
Edwards doesnt do glamorous work. To invoke the football cliché about the game being played in the trenches, Edwards may be foreman of the dirty work.
Its a hard life, Edwards says. Its a life of holding up blockers and taking on the run.
Edwards was signed by the Panthers a year ago in the post-lockout roster frenzy to be the anvil of the defensive line. Charles Johnson could sack quarterbacks and the linebackers could make tackles but Edwards was there to be big.
He never got the chance.
In the first week of training camp, Edwards suffered a torn right triceps, an injury that required season-ending surgery.
It forced rookie tackles Terrell McClain and Sione Fua to learn a difficult job on the fly and Edwards absence, along with the loss of linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis in the first two weeks of the regular season, severely weakened the Panthers defense.
Edwards waited nearly a year to start over.
Before his first practice in pads this year, Edwards said, I want to hit something.
Edwards can do that again.
I like being able to actually contribute through what they brought me here for, says Edwards, who was given Tuesdays practice off as a precautionary measure as he works himself back into football condition.
This will be Edwards 12th NFL season. He spent five in Buffalo and five more in Kansas City before the Panthers pulled him to Charlotte. The numbers arent eye-popping Edwards averaged 27.5 tackles over his last two seasons in Kansas City but the position doesnt demand gaudy numbers.
It demands size, strength and experience.
Watching film of Saturdays practice, Beason said Edwards showed in one play why he can be so valuable to the Panthers.
Theres a play where he gets on the center and peeks this way and kind of throws the center back and makes the tackle, Beason says. We have an eight-man box and have the extra defender, but he took it on himself to go ahead and make the play.
It was refreshing. Just to get a big, strong wide body in there it will keep me clean a lot of times. Im looking forward to it.
Linebacker James Anderson, who spent last season as the leader of an injury-decimated linebacker corps, loves what Edwards brings.
I think (having him back) is great, Anderson said. Youve got a guy thats 300-plus pounds and hes demanding two blockers so that means theres going to be a linebacker that can make plays and be free. Thats something you definitely need for this defense.
After his injury last season, Edwards took a proactive approach to his situation. Rather than disappear, he aggressively pursued his rehab and remained a part of the weekly preparation as best he could.
He was here every day. Hes a professional. He understands it, Panthers coach Ron Rivera says.
It was a long process, getting Edwards arm as strong as it had been. By late last season, Edwards said he felt the strength returning after seemingly endless rehab sessions.
Its something that you have to do to get back on the field. Its the price youve got to pay, Edwards says.