October 8, 2001
A Little Music, Please
by Keith Weiland
Though the 2002 NFL Draft may lack that once-in-a-generation franchise pick, it does offer ample depth in defensive line talent. South Carolina’s Kalimba Edwards symbolizes that depth. Edwards, a third team All-American in 2000, is a 6’6" 260 pound man among boys roaming the Gamecock defense for Lou Holtz’s resurgent 5-0 team.
Edwards, whose first name literally means "little music", orchestrated his movement into the national scene during last year’s game against Tennessee in which he made ten tackles, recorded one sack, recovered a fumble, and returned an interception eighty-one yards for a touchdown. In the 2001 Outback Bowl, Edwards’ forced fumble helped the Gamecocks take a 10-0 lead in setting up a 24-7 upset win over Ohio State. He finished the game with three sacks and three more tackles for a loss. This season, Edwards has already garnered SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors and is on watch lists for both the Lombardi and Butkus Awards.
He has shown some of his flexibility by shifting from defensive end to outside linebacker prior to the 2000 campaign. The results were evident in his team’s newfound success. South Carolina turned around a winless season in 1999 to an 8-4 record and a bowl game. Edwards was instrumental as the team’s third leading tackler last season, racking up seven sacks in the process.
"Kalimba has very good range at linebacker," Holtz said. "He is a versatile player who can also play defensive end."
That flexibility should have the NFL drooling. This past spring, the BLESTO scouting report rated Edwards as the overall top senior prospect. Other notables on the list were John Henderson at #3, Bryant McKinnie at #4, and Wendell Bryant at #7. The National combine rated Edwards at #3, again ahead of Henderson (#4), McKinnie (#5), and Bryant (#12).
At the very least, he has captured the interest of Houston’s head coach, Dom Capers. Capers personally scouted Edwards last month when the Gamecocks traveled to Mississippi State in a game that featured two teams ranked in the top 25. Edwards had eight tackles, keying a defensive performance that produced a 16-14 victory for his team.
South Carolina’s defense gives its opponents, most of whom draw up game plans to run the offense away from Edwards, a variety of looks from a unique 3-3-5 formation. To counter those plans, South Carolina moves Edwards all over the field in that scheme, though he usually comes from the right side as an outside linebacker. Oddly enough, Edwards likely doesn’t think of himself as a linebacker. How else can he justify his claim that teammate Kenny Harney is the best linebacker on the team?
Edwards has proven to be adept at dropping into pass coverage. He relies on his speed and solid instincts to react quickly to the ball, and he leads his team in tackles this season. The South Carolina defensive coaches have also taught good tackling fundamentals, and Edwards adds potency with his closing speed to wrap up with both arms in making good open field tackles. Edwards is also effective in shedding multiple blocks from smaller defenders. To move up in next year’s draft though, Edwards may find it more difficult to shed the "tweener" label and the specter of North Carolina’s junior phenom, Julius Peppers.
Edwards has said he prefers to line up in the down position. His reason for wanting to do so may be to help him gain better leverage against bigger offensive tackles capable of neutralizing him. Edwards is not overpowering when the offensive line is run blocking, but he can hold his own on the college level. His strength as a defensive end is in his outside speed rush. It’s a skill that, combined with his height and range, has earned him heady comparisons to the Titans’ All-Pro defensive end, Jevon Kearse.
Worrisome about Edwards is that he will need more than just a speed move to be effective in the NFL. Kearse exploded onto the scene as a rookie in 1999 and is still a top priority for blocking schemes today, but he is quickly becoming the one of the league’s most overrated players. His outside speed let him set the rookie record for sacks, but without other effective moves for offenses to defend, he’s just a one-trick pony caught many times over-pursuing in a blitz.
Like Kearse, Edwards may be asked to increase his bulk to better defend on both rushing downs as well as passing downs. Compared with Peppers, who is about the same height, Edwards is at least twenty pounds lighter. What will be paramount to Edwards is that he doesn’t wind up losing his quickness in the hands of NFL strength coaches and nutritionists.
The true story of Edwards’ 2001 season has yet to be told. As impressive as he has been in the first five games, still on the schedule for the Gamecocks are match-ups at Tennessee and at home against Florida and Clemson. How well Edwards plays in each of those games will determine whether Capers will singing his praises on draft day.
Keith Weiland speculates that Dom Capers may be most impressed with Kalimba Edwards’ flexibility as an outside linebacker and defensive end because it allows him keep both defensive scheme options, the 3-4 and 4-3 formations, open to him when evaluating the skills of other defensive players at his disposal. Kalimba Edwards Home