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Posted: Tuesday August 3, 2010 12:20PM ; Updated: Tuesday August 3, 2010 12:20PM

Vikes' Edwards preps for looming season in legendary Kronk Gym

Story Highlights

DE Ray Edwards of the Vikings wasn't consistenly great coming out of Purdue

The fourth-year vet is training with Hall of Fame boxing trainer Emanuel Steward

Steward, who trains Wladimir Klitschko, insists Edwards has uncommon talent

By Lee Feiner, SI.com

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Ray Edwards (right) of the Vikings is pushing himself during the offseason under legendary boxing trainer Emanuel Steward (left).
Courtesy of Sugar Hill

The term "low motor" is scout-speak for lazy.

That was the book on Ray Edwards coming out of Purdue before the 2006 NFL draft. Edwards was good, but he wasn't consistently great. He showed flashes, but didn't dominate. Four seasons after entering the league with the Minnesota Vikings as a fourth-round draft pick, Edwards has begun to pair his freakish physical gifts with on-field production.

After Edwards' 8.5 sacks with the Vikings during the regular season, and four more in two playoff games, nothing looked wrong with his motor in 2010. When talent evaluators are wrong, there's scout-speak for that too: They say scouting isn't an "exact science."

That much is apparent after Edwards opted to spend his final week of the offseason in Detroit's legendary Kronk Gym with Hall of Fame boxing trainer Emanuel Steward. For five days Edwards practiced a science that may not be exact, but according to Steward, may be too sweet for Edwards to leave behind.

"We start off with abs," Edwards said as he described a workout with Steward, "then I do a couple of rounds working on footwork ... then you throw the pads on and work on your jab, you work on your one-two combination, and just moving around ... do that for about three or four rounds, then you get out of the ring and hit the heavy bag for about three rounds, then I do abs again, then I stretch out."

There's a beat where Edwards allows the rigors of the routine, performed in the oppressive heat of the Detroit dungeon that has produced boxing legends like Tommy Hearns and Michael Moorer, to sink in.

"Yeah," he said. "We workin'."

It seems odd that Edwards, a 25-year-old defender who will play this season under a one-year restricted free agent tender, was even there at all. But Edwards feels compelled to look beyond this season, knowing that the owners could lock out the players next year.

"Everything I do, I do it for a reason," he said. "There's a lot of uncertainty out there with our organization right now, so I'm not trying to put everything in one basket, so if something does happen, I'm set up for the next thing I want to do in my life."

It turns out what Edwards wants to do is fight.

Emanuel Steward moved to Detroit when he was 11, but as he describes the football player that walked into his gym on Saturday, he sounds like he never left the country roads of his youth.

"I have never saw a big guy that has never boxed, a guy that moves so naturally like a boxer," Steward said, his words blending together in the verbal cursive of southern drawl. "Wladimir Klitschko ... and Lennox [Lewis] and for big guys, I always teach them on footwork, and [Edwards] catches on extremely, extremely well."

The longer Steward talked about Edwards, the less hesitant he seemed to repeat the names Lennox, Klitschko and Edwards in the same breath.

Klitschko and Lewis, two of the most decorated heavyweights in recent history, are both star pupils of Steward. Edwards is a promising young defensive end who began training as a boxer five days prior.

Yet listening to Steward rave about the fluidity of Edwards' movement, and a right hand that Steward says looks like Edwards has been throwing all his life, it sounds more like the start of things than the end of them.

A football player training at Kronk to get ready for his season certainly creates some nice publicity for the gym, but make no mistake about it, Emanuel Steward's business is training fighters. That is what makes Steward's parting offer to Edwards so intriguing.

When Klitschko begins training camp in preparation for his title defense on Sept. 11 against Samuel Peter, Steward wants Edwards to come down to Detroit and spar with the reigning world heavyweight champion.

It is unlikely Edwards will be trading blows with Klitschko on his days off from a grueling NFL season, but the gesture shows that Steward thinks his new student is good for business.

For now, Edwards is busy training for what he hopes will be his signature season in the NFL, and one where he breaks out of the large shadow being cast from the opposite defensive end position.

"For somebody to think that I'm living off somebody else, that's just not how I was raised and that's just not the type of person that I am ... I'm just looking to continue to solidify us being the best front four in the league, not just being Jared Allen, Pat [Williams] and Kevin [Williams]. Everybody's always trying to say I'm just lucky to play with [Allen], so you know just trying to make my own name for my own self and hold my own."

It sounds crazy, but lock this man out of the NFL for a year, and instead of competing for a ring, Ray Edwards might be stepping into one.

 
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