Bills rookie Edmunds has made great strides this season
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Micah Hyde laughs at the recollection of just turned 20-year-old linebacker Tremaine Edmunds having difficulty spitting out calls in the defensive huddle during one of the Buffalo Bills first offseason practices in May.
“They threw him in the fire and put him in the huddle and, man, he was tongue-tied,” the safety said. “We were all laughing, like, ‘Dude, just slow down, just calm down.’”
Hyde raises the memory in making a point about how much Edmunds has matured with his rookie season coming to a close. Buffalo (5-9) has two games left and travels to play New England (9-5) on Sunday.
“Now, he’s able to make adjustments just like anybody else,” Hyde said. “He gives us the call right away. He’s yelling to the sideline to get the play in. He’s come a long way.”
The biggest indication of how far the second of Buffalo’s two first-round draft picks has come occurred during a weekly players-only defensive strategy meeting two weeks ago. That’s when defensive tackle Kyle Williams relinquished his usual spot at the front of the room and had Edmunds lead the session.
“I went to him and said, ‘Hey, listen, I’ve been doing this for a long time, and when I look at you I see somebody who in my opinion is going to be a cornerstone here for a long time,’” said Williams, Buffalo’s longest-tenured active player and most respected leader. “I saw it as an opportunity to help him grow and to continue on the upward tick here the last few weeks of the season.”
The significance wasn’t lost on Edmunds.
“That meant a lot coming from a guy like that,” Edmunds said of the 13-year veteran. “I feel like if he didn’t trust me, he wouldn’t have done it at the time that he did it. I don’t like to let my teammates down. So I’m going to make sure I’m on top of my game for sure.”
Slowly but surely, Edmunds is emerging as the defensive leader the Bills anticipated they were getting in trading up six spots to draft him 16th overall.
At 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, Edmunds has showed off the combination of strength and speed that led him to be a Butkus Award finalist as the nation’s top linebacker following his junior year at Virginia Tech last season.
Edmunds leads the Bills with 98 tackles, has a sack and been credited with 10 passes defensed and six quarterback hits, while playing 791 out of 879 defensive snaps this season. He has forced two fumbles and picked off Jets rookie Sam Darnold two weeks ago to become the NFL’s youngest player to intercept a pass.
He’s accomplished this despite being six days shy of his 20th birthday when he was drafted, and while having to learn the intricacies and responsibilities that come with playing the middle linebacker spot after spending his three years at college playing the weak-side position.
“It’s been a big change,” Edmunds acknowledged. “I’m still trying to take steps forward now. I feel like the sky’s the limit to where I can get to. I feel like I’m nowhere close to being as good as I could be.”
There were several times earlier this season when an overeager Edmunds went the wrong way in being fooled by a fake handoff, or failed to fill a hole along the line of scrimmage.
The mistakes were not unexpected, and veteran linebacker Lorenzo Alexander advised Edmunds to slow down and allow himself to read what’s happening before reacting.
“Sometimes because he is so athletic, they’ll get him out of position. So he’s learned to be more patient,” Alexander said. “And now, some of the things that people were attacking him on aren’t happening because he’s slowing down, and he has the experience to know how people have been attacking him.”
New England coach Bill Belichick noted the improvement he’s seen in Edmunds since the AFC East teams met on Oct. 29.
“He’s big, he’s fast, he’s getting better every week,” Belichick said. “He handles a lot of the higher degree of difficulty plays a lot better than what we saw going into the first game.”
Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier often has to remind himself of Edmunds’ young age.
“So young at what he’s doing, and to see his growth is just incredible,” Frazier said.
“With his athletic ability, to be able to take the coaching, process it and go back out and not make the same mistake over and over again, he has the chance to be really good down the line.”