Mike Edwards doesn't need a whole lot of time on the field to make his mark. That was apparent in last season's Week Two win over the Atlanta Falcons, when he saw just 39 of a possible defensive snaps but still finished with two – yes, two – pick-sixes in a 48-25 victory for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He joined the great Ronde Barber as the only two Buccaneers ever to pull off that feat.
Make no mistake, though, Edwards wants to be on the field more often, and the Buccaneers will want that too if he can continue to get the football in his hands while playing a more well-rounded game overall. And to that end, Edwards is once again showing up big in a small sample size. In this case, it's the Buccaneers' 2022 training camp, the proving grounds where he will try to capture that much larger role, and Edwards has had a very strong first two days.
"Mike's been great," said Head Coach Todd Bowles, the most important man for Edwards to impress in these dog days of summer. "He came in camp, looks good, he's moving around, he's a lot more vocal than he has been. Anytime you're in a scheme a while you should be. Right now he's having an excellent camp, for two days as much as you can say. He's been great."
There is a clear opportunity for Edwards after Jordan Whitehead signed with the New York Jets in free agency. The Buccaneers drafted a safety within the first four rounds each year from 2018 to 2020 – Whitehead in the fourth round in 2018, Edwards in the third round in 2019 and Antoine Winfield Jr. in the second round in 2020 – and Winfield was the first to hit free agency. For most of the past two years it's been Whitehead and Winfield occupying the two starting safety spots.
Edwards started seven games as a rookie but the team's most common duo in 2019 was Whitehead and veteran Andrew Adams. Edwards still got on the field for 58% of the team's defensive snaps, but that dropped to 18% in 2020 after the arrival of Winfield. Edwards bounced back to 57% usage last year as the coaching staffs sought ways to get his ball-hawking abilities on the field, often putting him in for Whitehead in obvious passing downs. Despite his fluctuating and sometimes frustrating amount of playing time, Edwards has seven interceptions over the past two seasons (including playoffs), the most by any Buccaneers player in that span.
Obviously, that's reason to get him on the field, and the coaches also pointed to his improved tackling in the later stages of the 2021 season. And in the early days of training camp Edwards has been running with Winfield on the starting defense, apparently making a strong early case to stay there. That's complicated by the Buccaneers' offseason additions of versatile safeties Logan Ryan and Keanu Neal.
Or maybe it's not. The Buccaneers have also exhibited some looks already in training camp with three safeties on the field at the same time. Bowles is a creative defensive architect and he likes to give opposing offenses new and different looks, and pre-snap reads that might be disguising the defense's true intent on the play. Edwards may indeed win a larger chunk of playing time this season, and perhaps the title of 'starter,' but the Buccaneers are likely to use all of those safeties in creative ways.
"They have a lot of position flex because they can do a lot of things," said Bowles. Between Mike and Winfield and Keanu and Logan, and Ross [Cockrell] even, they can do a lot of things. Depending on who we're playing and how we're playing, we'll tinker with some things and see what they do best together and try to work it out that way without affecting everybody else."
Mike Edwards knows how to make a splash in a hurry. Now he's working to show that he can do so even more frequently with a larger role in the Bucs' defense.