FOXBORO -- Julian Edelman has dealt with change before.A quarterback at Kent State, he came out of college understanding his talent under center probably wouldn't translate to the NFL."I still threw the ball, but I know that I'm vertically challenged for the prototypical quarterback," he said Wednesday with a smile.So the 5-foot-10 Edelman hooked up with former Akron QB Charlie Frye before the draft and started working as a wide receiver.Nothing sensational there. NFL history is littered with examples of college quarterbacks turning into pro receivers, going back to Marlin Briscoe. It's not impossible to find success stories."You have a slight advantage in the transition in that you know what the quarterback is thinking, you know his point of view," Gene Washington, Stanford quarterback-turned-four-time All Pro receiver, told NFL.com columnist Thomas George. "A lot of receivers think if they just get open, that's it. But they don't see the game from the quarterback's eyes. Good receivers think like quarterbacks think."What about the guy who has to switch positions a second time? The former QB who suddenly finds himself a former wideout? That's the change Edelman's been working through since November 13. As the Patriots move toward the playoffs, he gears up as a one of their top-five defensive backs.Opportunity for identity crisis: check."It's just foreign," Edelman said of the switch. "I've never done it. I'm doing everything backwards, whether it's physical or whether I'm looking at things on the chalkboard. I'm so used to seeing things the other way."New England isn't totally nuts.First of all, the defense needed help. Even at full-strength -- a rare status this season -- the unit surrenders a copious amount of yardage.Second, there's The Troy Brown Experiment. As Edelman's defensive snaps began to pile up -- from garbage time in the slot against the Jets, to spying Chiefs running back Dexter McCluster, to steamrolling Vince Young on a right-side corner-blitz -- comparisons to Brown began to surface. Both fell down on the receiving depth chart as the Patriots offense expanded; both were pressed into service because of an injury-depleted, struggling corps of "D" backs; both had success as punt returners; both paid returns when moved to defense.But there's a key difference between Brown and Edelman.Brown was made a cornerback in 2004 -- 12 years into his career. His receiving sun had already risen, hitting its apex in 2001 with 101 catches for 1,199 yards and five touchdowns, and begun to set. Despite 97 catches for 890 yards the following year, nothing would again compare. And Brown made peace with it."When I did it, I was an older player and we had plenty of guys in place -- David Patten, David Givens and Deion Branch -- so we had enough receivers," he said. "I still played receiver, but I got banged up that year and didn't play as much as I would have liked to."In discussing the move, Brown is comfortable in retrospect. Edelman -- in just his third season -- is still laboring to find his place. You'd imagine NFL purgatory could wreak havoc on a man's mind."I think you have to have thick skin and you have to have common sense," said Brown. "If Edelman, even if he thought he was better than Wes Welker -- and it doesn't hurt to think that way -- looking at the production he's put up, it's kind of hard to argue that case."Edelman had 4 catches for 34 yards at season's close. It's a drop from last season's 7 receptions for 86 yards and a nosedive off of 2009's numbers (37 for 359). Back then, in Edelman's rookie year, the knee-jerk comparisons were to Welker; some saw boundless potential in his explosiveness.Welker used Week 17 to cap off a career-best 1,569 yards on 122 catches this season. Edelman compiled 41 straight snaps at defensive back against the Bills.Is his passion for receiving, for offense, slipping away as his field time does? Edelman doesn't deny the hope his number will be called when Tom Brady has the ball. But he's not foolish -- he sees the same situation you do."Of course you want to play receiver," he said, looking off to a locker room wall. "But how can you complain when you've got Aaron Hernandez doing great, you've got Rob Gronkowski's record-setting year, you've got Wes Welker being Wes Welker, Deion Branch -- MVP of the 2004 Super Bowl -- and Chad Ochocinco, who's done his part?"Hence the question if Edelman's best role for the Patriots is on defense. For 2011, the answer is yes. The future, as it goes, is harder to figure out. Why would a team choose a quarterback-turned-receiver-turned-defensive back over a pure DB coming up in the draft? Edelman is NFL-tested. He's gone against pro talent and not been burned.When he replaced Nate Jones at nickel against the Bills, New England was down 21-0.The team needed help; Edelman took the challenge to task.He finished with five tackles and the Patriots didn't surrender another point. Nobody's saying the win rests on his shoulders, but both reporters and fans are talking about his tackles."I'm glad I have everyone fooled here. You guys think I know what I'm doing," he said with a sideways smile. "Have I been surprised at any success? No, because I'm just trying to play football."The desire to just play football -- to not be handcuffed to one position -- it's what helped Troy Brown adjust. It's a motive Bill Belichick knows how to manipulate. And it might be the mentality that helps Julian Edelman find his way.
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