What wall? Steelers rookie Edmunds proving reliable, durable

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Terrell Edmunds rubbed the small mark on his forehead, one still visible more than a full week after the Pittsburgh Steelers rookie safety found himself on the wrong end of a collision with New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.

“It looks like I lost a fight,” Edmunds said.

Yes and no. The 21-year-old Edmunds appeared to have Gronkowski stopped just short of a first down in the fourth quarter on Dec. 16 only to have Gronkowski extend his 6-foot-7 frame past the marker. Edmunds, giving away 6 inches and a good 50 pounds to Gronkowski, didn’t mope or waste a second trying to shake the cobwebs out. He went right back to work. It’s kind of his thing.

The player who was a bit of a surprise first-round pick when the Steelers took him with the 28th overall pick in April has proven to be one of the few constants during an uneven season for Pittsburgh (8-6-1), which needs to beat Cincinnati in the regular-season finale on Sunday and hope Baltimore loses to Cleveland to win a third straight AFC North title. Edmunds has played 1,132 snaps through 15 weeks, tops on the team and the sixth-highest total in the league.

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Not bad considering he tore the labrum in his shoulder late in his final season at Virginia Tech. He was worried it would hinder his progress.

Hardly. A full 19 games (including preseason) into his first year as a professional, Edmunds — voted the team’s Rookie of the Year on Wednesday — looks just as fresh as he did when he arrived in town in early May.

“He’s durable,” safety Sean Davis, named Rookie of the Year in 2016, said. “He hasn’t missed. We ask him to do a lot. He does it. He does a good job with it. He’s picking the game up well.”

Edmunds didn’t really have a choice. The Steelers signed veteran Morgan Burnett to a three-year contract in March then drafted Edmunds a month later, figuring they could bring him along slowly. It didn’t exactly turn out that way. Burnett spent most of training camp and much of the early season battling various injuries, forcing Edmunds to take on a starting role immediately.

“When I first came in, just going out there, trying to put everything out there show Coach (Mike Tomlin) and (general manager Kevin) Colbert why they drafted me,” Edmunds said. “My mindset is always to go out there and try to play, whether it was special teams, defense or whatever.”

Edmunds is third on the team in tackles (73) and picked up his first career sack when he chased down the Chargers’ Philip Rivers on Dec. 2 and has rarely looked like a player just trying to figure this NFL thing out.

Maybe it’s because he always felt like he belonged. Edmunds comes from a football family. His father, Ferrell was a Pro Bowl tight end for the Miami Dolphins in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Older brother Trey is both his teammate and his roommate after signing with the Steelers in September and younger brother Tremaine Edmunds is in the midst of his own solid rookie season as a linebacker in Buffalo.

Asked who is having the better year, he or Tremaine, Edmunds just laughed.

“Don’t make me pick,” he said. “We’re going to go back and forth about it whenever we get home. He had a great year. I’m coming along better in my year now. It’s something to build on.”

The Steelers are counting on it. Though Edmunds understands going so high in the draft surprised some, he didn’t take the perceived slight personally. If anything he tuned it out, impressing his teammates with his maturity in the process.

“To be able to be drafted where he was drafted and to able to absorb things from everybody, taking coaching, not thinking that he knows everything, I think he’s got a very good base foundation,” cornerback Joe Haden said.

One Edmunds hopes he’ll get to expand in January. He’s well aware his team’s playoff chances are iffy at best following a late swoon that’s seen the Steelers drop four of five to cede the AFC North lead to the Ravens. Five straight months of playing haven’t exactly worn him down. If anything it’s left him hungry for more.

So much for the dreaded “rookie wall.” Edmunds insists there’s no secret on why he’s been able to keep going. He just has. It’s part of the job.

“We always talk in the (defensive back) room that we can’t let up,” Edmunds said. “People are going to make plays in the league because everybody is a pro.”

NOTES: RB James Conner practiced Wednesday and appears close to returning from the sprained left ankle that’s forced him to miss the past three games. Conner declined to offer an answer when asked if he would play against the Bengals, simply repeating he’s “getting better and better.” … QB Ben Roethlisberger, WR Antonio Brown and C Maurkice Pouncey were given the day off. … Davis (quadriceps) and LB Vince Williams (toe) did not practice. … Haden received the annual “Chief Award” given to a player for their cooperation with the media.

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