CLEVELAND — Derek Anderson stood before a crowded room of reporters and spoke about opportunities — those that have been given to him, as well as the ones he’s tried to give to his teammates.
“All I’m trying to do is give them a chance to go out there and make plays,” he said, basking in the high of the Cleveland Browns’ third win of the season.
Anderson then turned to his side and nodded to wide receiver Braylon Edwards, who was seated comfortably in a plastic chair, waiting for his turn at the podium, adding, “And I appreciate it, by the way.”
It’s becoming harder not to appreciate the exploits of Edwards, especially after his three-touchdown performance in the Browns’ 41-31 victory Sunday over the Miami Dolphins at Browns Stadium.
Edwards had five catches for 67 yards — his most modest production in the last month. But his three scores — two of which came in the fourth quarter to put Miami away — marked the first time he’s recorded a hat trick as a pro and it tied a team record shared by nine other players, most recently by tight end Steve Heiden against the Cincinnati Bengals on Nov. 28, 2004.
More importantly, Edwards seems to have found the perfect pitch between promise and production and style and substance. In his third year, after being drafted third overall in 2005, Edwards says he has weathered the impossible expectations placed on him by both the public and himself.
“When you get drafted early, you want to make your mark fast,” said Edwards. “You want to show everybody that you are not a bust. You want to show them right away that this is why they drafted me No. 3. Or why (the Dolphins) drafted Ronnie Brown No. 2.”
Referencing Brown was a curious gesture. When Edwards came out of Michigan, he was generally viewed as the most NFL-ready wide receiver to come out of college in years. The Dolphins had the second pick in the draft and had a gaping hole at wide receiver. Instead, they chose Brown, a versatile halfback.
Neither player paid immediate dividends for their respective teams. In the case of Edwards, the first two years of his NFL career were dominated by inconsistent performances and questions about his lack of professionalism. That frustration boiled over last November during a 30-0 loss to the Bengals, when Edwards exploded at then-quarterback Charlie Frye in a sideline tirade, resulting in an embarrassing apology one day later.
“You have to understand, he was expected to be the savior of an organization that hasn’t been winning,” Browns coach Romeo Crennel said. “There’s an extraordinary amount of pressure that goes with that. And when we weren’t winning and when he wasn’t putting up the kind of numbers that’s expected, I think he struggled with that.”
Edwards might have entered the league physically ready for the NFL, but it took time for him to appreciate the other factors that equate to professional success.
“Those first two years, I think as a player, you always think you’re ready,” said Edwards. “And to a certain extent, you are. But there are a lot of things you have to learn. There’s a lot of things you need to see. And I believe I saw some of those things the hard way. But they only made me a better player.”
And a better teammate.
Edwards threw a pair of key blocks that helped extend drives for the Browns on Sunday. Early in the fourth quarter, after Anderson rolled out and found tight end Kellen Winslow over the middle, Edward came across the field and laid out safety Donovin Darius, springing Winslow for another 7 yards.
As he walked back to the huddle, center Hank Fraley pointed to Edwards in acknowledgement. Seven plays later, Edwards made an acrobatic leap, lunging over the outstretched arms of Dolphins cornerback Andre Goodman to snare an Anderson pass from 16 yards out for a touchdown.
“He’s becoming our go-to guy,” said wide receiver Joe Jurevicius. “He’s becoming an all-around receiver.”
Jurevicius was asked if during those two stormy seasons, he ever took Edwards under his wing and served as a mentor. With brisk words, Jurevicius left little room for doubt.
“I’m not the kind of guy to take Braylon by the hand,” said the 10-year veteran. “He’s his own man. You can’t take that away from him. He’s got a feistiness, he’s got an edge to him and he’s a smart guy.”
That edge and feistiness can be quite a combination without self-control. But Edwards says he has a stronger grasp on his emotions.
Certainly his play on the field suggests just that.
“This is why I was so vocal for those years, because I knew what I could do,” said Edwards. “I just wasn’t necessarily doing it and I wasn’t being patient with the game. Now the game is just coming to me.”
Contact Pete Alpern at 329-7137