When Julian Edelman left the Week 3 matchup with the Jets due a chest injury, many expected the worst, especially when it was reported ribs were involved.
But, that hasn't been the case at all.
Edelman has played all three games since, including recording over 100 yards receiving in his last two times taking the field. While he’s been extremely productive, it’s been clear the injury is still having some effect on him, particularly against the Redskins when he would take a few extra seconds getting up after being tackled.
Not only has the 33-year-old not missed a game since the injury, he hasn’t even missed a practice.
That is just who he is, and something that was apparent well before he reached the NFL.
“I have been around guys who have had a lot of toughness, but not to his level,” Doug Martin, Edelman’s head coach at Kent State said. “He is exceptional when it comes to that and again, I think a lot of it has to do with his mental makeup and the way he approaches the game and his work ethic.”
“I don’t ever recall Julian missing a practice, a game, or even missing a rep,” Bret Pollack, Edelman’s offensive coordinator during his one year at College of San Mateo added. “I can picture the Mondays where we would come in after playing on Saturday and do some light conditioning and I can remember him doing the conditioning hobbling, but not taking himself out, just fighting through it. The kid never missed a rep.
“I can’t speak more highly about his mental and physical toughness.”
The stories of Edelman getting clobbered, but getting right back up and into the huddle for the next play are endless. Just ask his former coaches.
In 2007, Edelman’s junior year at Kent State, he was the quarterback and they played Kentucky on the road. Edelman finished with 129 yards passing, while adding 24 carries for 135 yards. The coaching staff learned after the game Edelman did all of that with a torn PCL in his knee.
For some players that might end the year, or at least miss some time. But, not Edelman.
“There was never even any doubt with him,” Martin said. “Dependability is the most important thing and you could always depend on him being there.”
A broken forearm six games later did end his season, but not because Edelman didn’t want to play through it. He needed to be told he couldn’t.
Even in high school, a skinny 5-foot-6 quarterback loved running the option and almost always kept the ball seemingly embracing big hits every play.
“He took some big hits,” said Steve Nicolopulos, Edelman’s coach during his senior year at Woodside High School. “I was probably more worried about the big hits than he was because he was the quarterback and he was one of the reasons we had good success that year. I tried to keep him from being in situations, even though we ran the option. Running the option you are going to get the quarterback hit, but we tried to go ahead and keep him from taking as many hits as possible.”
It’s one thing to take the beating Edelman has as a high school, college and even young NFL player, but another thing now that he’s in his 30s.
During the 2015 season, Edelman broke his left foot, but nine weeks later he was back for the postseason. In 2017, he tore his ACL, but came back even stronger in 2018, finishing with 850 yards receiving and six touchdowns over 12 games due to a suspension.
“Part of me is not amazed anymore because that is who he is, but then you kind of take that for granted. I don’t think you can take a guy like Julian for granted,” Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater said. “I honestly think sometimes he can go out there and die, not literally, but he will give you everything he has until he can’t. That is just rare. Not only for this era of football, but I think for any era of football to have a guy like that — just his will to go out and compete and win, and to play through whatever is going on is really unmatched in my mind."
And it isn’t like Edelman is the 53rd player on the roster and he is trying to earn a spot. He’s one of the best players on the team, but he’s acts like he’s fighting for a job every day.
“It makes you take a long look in the mirror,” Slater said. “Look, this guy is out there some games getting hit, tattooed, flying around, flying squirrel and finds a way to come back in the huddle and do it again.
"We’re not that young anymore, and for him to still be doing that is really impressive.”
While it is easy just to expect Edelman to be out there each and every week, he truly is one of the toughest players in the league and it is something that should not be taken for granted.