By Tom Weber
CARBONDALE, Ill. - Saluki senior outside linebacker Lamonte Edwards believes he's not even close to reaching his full potential as a football player.
Perhaps that's because he spent the first two years of his career at Minnesota playing running back, before head coach Jerry Kill saw a need for him at linebacker. Edwards, a highly decorated tailback from Woodbury High School in suburban Minneapolis, had some reservations about the move at first.
"I loved playing running back and it was going to be a big transition," he recalled. "But I also felt kind of honored, because there was a wide variety of people he could have chosen and he chose me. He said he loved my speed and aggressiveness running after the ball and my enthusiasm to play football. I embraced it and bought into it."
The Golden Gophers run a 4-3 system where the outside linebackers more often drop into coverage than rush the passer. It was less than a perfect fit for Edwards who flashed big-play potential last season in Southern's 3-4 scheme.
"I like Coach (Dale) Lennon's aggressive style at SIU," Edwards said. "He let's us play and be athletes. At Minnesota I was never blitzing that much or coming off the edge and working pass-rush moves. I was more of stand-back linebacker who dropped into coverage."
Edwards arrived in Carbondale in August last year and played all 12 games for the Salukis in 2013, mainly as a situational pass rusher.
"The more I started to pass rush, the more I liked it," said the 6-foot-2, 213-pound athlete, who recorded a season-high four tackles against Missouri State and had two tackles for loss, including a sack in the road win over No. 4 Northern Iowa.
Although his pass rush moves are still raw, Edwards' blazing speed and athleticism caught the eye of at least one NFL scout at practice this week. He has shown a remarkable ability to cover ground from sideline to sideline, and paired with fellow outside linebacker Tyler Williamson, the duo could wreak havoc on opposing backfields this season.
"You live and you learn," he said. "This is my second chance and I'm blessed to be here. Everything happens for a reason and I'm going to make the most out of it."
Parenthood has speeded the maturation process for the 22-year-old Edwards, who frequently cares for his three-year-old son.
"I love my son and I understand how my lifestyle has to change to help take care of him," he explained.
Edwards said he hopes to be a counselor for troubled youth when his football career ends.
"I've seen a lot of difficult circumstances in peoples' lives and I think I can appreciate and relate to those experiences," he said.
In the meantime, he can't wait to find out how high his ceiling as a football player might be.
"I personally don't know what that might be," Edwards pondered. "The sky is the limit."
1. The team held its first two-a-day practices today at the stadium. Tomorrow, the team will scrimmage at the stadium at 8:30 a.m. We'll provide live Twitter reports at SIU_Football.
2. Coach Lennon said the staff will meet on Sunday and make a decision on the starting quarterback. He will make a public announcement after practice on Monday.
3. QB Matt Vincent said his hand is progressing nicely and he expects to return to practice sometime next week. He had five stitches removed from his forearm yesterday and has two stitches remaining in his thumb. The fourth-year junior was in the thick of the quarterback derby with Ryan West and Mark Iannotti during spring ball.
4. Not much has been written about the two true freshman QBs in camp -- Sam Straub of Ames, Iowa and Matt DeSomer of Lowell, Ind. During practice today, Straub evaded the pass rush and made a nice downfield completion to WR Shawn Mitchell. DeSomer has flashed good athletic ability in his limited reps.
5. LB Chase Allen is getting strong reviews from the coaching staff after he was moved inside to replace the departed Carl Bivens. Coach Lennon, who is not known for hyperbole, called him "a natural." Two other inside linebackers are working their way up the depth chart -- Victor Burnett and Darius Merriweather. Burnett is a fifth-year senior who transferred from Washington and has suffered multiple injuries since arriving at SIU in 2012. He missed all of 2013 with a knee injury, but the Los Angeles native appears to be back to full strength. Merriweather is a Voorhees, N.J. product who played wide receiver in high school, but he has since bulked up to 6-3 and 230 pounds and shown impressive speed and power on defense.
7. The play of the day for the offense was a leaping catch by TE MyCole Pruitt off a ball thrown by QB Mark Iannotti. Pruitt held onto the ball despite being popped by safety Anthony Thompson. The defense's play of the day was an interception return for a touchdown by S D.J. Cameron, who stepped in front of Pruitt on a ball thrown by QB Ryan West.
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