On the sugar-white sandy beaches of the Grand Cayman Islands, Braylon Edwards stared into the turquoise ocean. Postcard pictures of serenity surrounding him, Edwards wasn’t looking for ships or sunsets. Just for himself, and the man he wants to become.
On the sugar-white sandy beaches of the Grand Cayman Islands, Braylon Edwards stared into the turquoise ocean. Postcard pictures of serenity surrounding him, Edwards wasn’t looking for ships or sunsets.
Just for himself, and the man he wants to become.
It was three months before training camp would begin, six months since his turbulent 2006 season ended. Nearing the start of his third season, the Cleveland Browns wide receiver was at a crossroad in his life and in his career.
“This offseason was a chance for me to focus on myself,” Edwards said. “I needed to grow as a person and grow as a player. I spent the majority of the last three months in the offseason on myself. Just me, no outside help.”
The Browns drafted Edwards with the third pick in 2005. After signing a five-year contract that could pay him as much as $40 million, Edwards’ every move on Sundays has been watched critically. He has underachieved, perhaps to a lesser extent than the entire team.
The season-opening loss to Pittsburgh made it painfully obvious that Charlie Frye could not find the hot receiver in time. The receiver is the third link in a series of events that has to be perfect for the ball to hit his hands. The offensive line has to protect, the quarterback has to make the throw and make it a catchable.
“Braylon has been in a tough spot for two years,” General Manager Phil Savage said. “Without the protection of the offensive line and the quarterback position getting the ball out, it’s difficult to post big-time numbers, and that’s what people look for in the No. 3 pick of the draft.”
Tough 2066 to forget
Edwards’ NFL career bottomed out last year. During a 30-0 loss to the Bengals, the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder, normally mild mannered, lost control of his emotions on the sideline. After a Frye interception, he grabbed Frye’s jersey. That came weeks after he questioned the aggressiveness of Cleveland’s offense.
By the time another frustrating season ended, fans targeted Edwards. He was booed at home, ripped by the media.
“It was very tough, and I saw it all,” said Edwards’ mother, Malesa Plater. “It was shocking. ... It was pretty devastating. ... I couldn’t do anything about it, because as I tell Braylon, if I hail you, then they’ll nail you. Now he’s a hero, and everyone is hailing him. Tomorrow, they could be nailing him.”
Make no mistake, Edwards said, his mother spoils him. On home game days, she’s cooking his favorite meal — chicken — to bring to Cleveland. But don’t misconstrue a mother’s love and her wisdom.
“He’s a grown man. I’m not mommy running to his boss,” she said. “This is his job. I talk to him and tell him, ‘Do your job. These are your bosses.’
“Last year helped him because it made him a better man. I’m glad that’s over, and we’re at this point now.”
When the year ended, Edwards knew he had to change.
He won’t admit how much, but team personnel say the public’s perception did shake Edwards.
“There are a couple of things I’m not,” Edwards said. “I’m not a distraction. I’m not a selfish guy, and I’m not a loser. I refuse to lose like that. I didn’t feel like we were getting anything, and I let my emotions get the best of me.
“The perception out there was not an accurate one. I didn’t like it at all, and I told myself ... whatever I have to do, I’m going to correct.”
Basically, he took a “Shut-up-and-I’m-going-to-catch-the-damn-ball approach.”
And so he did last Sunday.
Michigan man in Ohio
Edwards and the Browns offense clicked as never before. Quarterback Derek Anderson found him twice for touchdowns. When the 51-45 win over Cincinnati ended, Edwards had a career-high eight catches for 146 yards.
That game was a glimpse of Rob Chudzinski’s new offense. It required Edwards switching receiver positions and being more keen to what the defense is doing before the snap.
“The things I’m doing are so much different,” Edwards said. “If people blitz, I have to know if I’m hot. ... Things have changed for the better.”
Fans aren’t sure if they should love him or hate him. Edwards came from Michigan. This is Ohio State territory. But this is the NFL. Good or bad, he’ll make a reputation with the Browns.
“I don’t think a lot of people moved past that (Michigan) label,” Edwards said. “A lot of people in this town saw me as a Michigan guy. At my first press conference after I was drafted, it was a chilly room to say the least. One of the first questions I got asked was a negative question (about Michigan).”
Last Sunday, Browns Stadium rocked. When fans sang “Hang on Sloopy” and chanted O-H-I-O, Edwards danced to the music. There were times when that song hurt his ears.
“It’s an Ohio song, and it’s bigger than Ohio State,” Edwards said. “I had a perception my first two years ... to hell with that song. But it’s so much bigger than Ohio State. It’s a tribute to this state, and I’m a part of this state now.”
Naivety is a fault
Edwards is among the most charming players in the locker room. He’s well-spoken and more aware of what he says and how it can be construed.
“He thinks everybody should love life like he loves it and love him like he loves everybody else,” Malesa said. “When you have such a pure heart, it’s easy to open yourself and realize, ‘Wow, these people don’t really love me.”
The Browns, especially Savage, like the changes Edwards made to his personality in the offseason. But the team, as well as Edwards, realizes this is just the second week of the season.
Consistency on and off the field will answer whether the three months Edwards traveled has made a difference.
“He has size, leaping ability and skills needed to make big plays,” Savage said. “I think his play on the field will mirror his attitude and actions off the field. Braylon is a good person, had been in a winning program and found it frustrating, I’m sure, to be seen as the savior for a losing NFL team.”
Edwards, along with Kellen Winslow Jr., is among the temple of players on which Cleveland’s turnaround is riding. Yet the perception exists that they do not get along.
Not true, Edwards said. In the win against the Bengals, both had 100 yards receiving.
“I don’t know how people have that misconception,” Edwards said. “Look at the Colts. ... Patriots. ... Cincinnati. Look at the teams that win. There’s always enough to go around.”
But there is a competitive nature to their relationship.
“We both came from winning programs and had misfortunes here,” Edwards said. “We’re competitors. I want to have more catches than him, and he wants to have more catches than me.
“But it’s not about stats. It about an inner rivalry we keep up. We like brothers in practice. If Kellen catches a ball with one hand in practice, I’m going to try to find a spot in practice where I can catch a pass with one hand.”
More than football
In the offseason, Edwards’ Advance 100 Pledge (an extension of his foundation) established a $1 million college fund to 100 students in Cleveland schools. He has endowed a $500,000 scholarship for the player who wears No. 1 at Michigan. When his rookie season was cut short from knee surgery, he was asked to spend an hour with children in the hospital. He spent the entire day, visiting every kid.
“I needed to take things further in terms of handling myself as a professional,” Edwards said. “I love playing in Cleveland. It’s close to home. My family comes to every game and sits together.”
Edwards is as close to his stepfather, Charles Plater, as he is his father, Stan, who played at Michigan. He had no shortage of guidance when he searched for answers this offseason. Perhaps the best piece of advice came from his mom.
“She loves me dearly, and I’m the baby boy ... but she tells me real,” Edwards said.
Malesa told her son he wasn’t playing the game.
“He told you about that, huh?” she said. “I wasn’t talking about football. Life is a game, and you have to play it within the guidelines. He had to learn how to play the game of life. ... He can play with his heart but don’t always speak with it.”
Edwards is still a kid in some respects. During time before a team meeting last week, he was checking iTunes, an addiction he has to music. He enjoys bowling and golf.
More importantly, Edwards is learning to focus on the little things.
Last Sunday, a little sun shone on Edwards. On Seven Mile Beach, the sun almost always shines. The water’s always green, and the sand warm to the feet.
A man can lose himself there. And find himself as well.
Reach Canton Repository sports writer Todd Porter at (330) 580-8340 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org