Aside from their affiliation with the New England Patriots, Julian Edelman and Tedy Bruschi could not be more different on the football field.
The former: a former college option quarterback turned shifty receiver/punt returner. The latter: a hard-charging defensive tackle turned thumping, covering inside linebacker.
The common thread, according to Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, is the dramatic changes both men endured in making the transition from college football to the big leagues.
"I think Julian's career compares to players like Tedy Bruschi, who played one position in college that was — I would say — pretty unrelated to the position that he played professionally," Belichick said on a conference call on Saturday. "Tedy went from a defensive tackle always in a three-point stance, never in coverage, to playing on his feet, playing middle linebacker, and playing a majority of the game in coverage. Julian was a quarterback that never returned kicks, and now, can return punts and plays receiver."
Edelman had the best receiving season of his career last year, totaling 105 catches for 1,056 yards and six touchdowns. He also returned a career-high 35 punts for 374 yards. His average of 12.3 yards per punt return is the highest among active players and the fourth-highest all-time.
He also set a Patriots franchise record with a 94-yard punt return in the season finale against the Miami Dolphins in 2010, his second year in the NFL.
"Julian's worked extremely hard. I would say he's developed skills in two areas — punt return and receiver — that he didn't have any experience at," Belichick said. "That's not an easy thing to do at all. You've got to give a lot of credit to the amount of work and dedication and training that he's put into that."
At Kent State, Edelman ran the ball nearly as often as he threw it, at least as far as quarterbacks are concerned (506 career rush attempts, 706 career pass attempts). He also had nearly as many rushing scores (22) as passing (30).
Edelman may have had no experience as a pass-catcher, but he has excelled for his ability to take his physical and mental skill set and apply it to his new position.
"It's a lot of hard work, a lot of re-training or training, however you want to look at it, understanding what goes into those positions that they haven't played," Belichick said. "Certainly, those guys have good football IQ and basic football instincts and intelligence, which helps them to transfer their skills and their instinctiveness into those other positions, but it's still a big learning curve."
The learning curve may be especially steep for a wide receiver, who must know not only his own assignment, but the assignments of the players around him and the defense, in order to be successful. In that respect, Edelman's experience as a quarterback may had helped the transition, but none of it would have been possible without his incredible work ethic and dedication to his craft.
With so many of his teammates and fellow Patriots pass-catchers returning to health this season, Edelman has been considered a regression candidate. He has shown no signs of slowing down in the preseason, however; he looked like the best receiver on the field through much of training camp (at least without Aaron Dobson) and he remains the top target this preseason with 10 receptions.
Perhaps Edelman and Bruschi have more in common than it seems, and if Edelman keeps performing like he did last year, and like he has performed in the preseason, he could one day join the former Patriots' linebacker with a spot in the Patriots Hall of Fame.