FOXBORO -- When receiving a compliment from Bill Belichick, there are few that rank higher than being compared to Tedy Bruschi -- the linebacker Belichick once called "the perfect player." But that's just what happened when Belichick was asked to describe the leap that Julian Edelman has made from an option quarterback at Kent State to New England's most reliable receiver.
Though he battled injury early in his career, Edelman exploded for a 100-catch, 1,000-yard season in 2013 that earned him a new contract with the Patriots and solidified his standing as Tom Brady's most trusted wideout. He had eight catches for 99 yards in Friday's 30-7 Patriots preseason win over the Panthers, and appears to have picked up where he left off after his career year.
Like Edelman, Bruschi worked to develop himself at a completely different position than the one he played as a collegian at University of Arizona in the 1990s.
"I think Julian’s career compares to players like Tedy Bruschi who played one position in college that was, I’d say, pretty unrelated to the position that he played professionally," Belichick said in a conference call Saturday. "Tedy went from a defensive tackle always in a three-point stance, never in coverage, to playing on his feet and playing middle linebacker and playing the majority of his game in coverage.
"Julian was an option quarterback that never returned kicks who now can return punts and plays receiver. I think those kinds of players, although they’re not common, there are certainly more examples of guys like Bruschi and Edelman, players like that who are making a transition from one position to another, more so than let’s say [Logan] Mankins who went from tackle to guard. Even though that’s a big transition too, it’s not as big as what we’re talking about with Tedy and Julian.
"Again it’s a lot of hard work, a lot of re-training or training, however you want to look at it, understanding what goes into those positions that they haven’t played. Certainly those guys have good football IQ and basic football instincts and intelligence, which helps them transfer their skills and their instinctiveness into those other positions, but it’s still a big learning curve. Hard work, dedication to starting something that’s relatively new and just working at it day by day to try to do the things they needed to do to be able to compete in this league at their new positions."
As Belichick noted with Edelman, things didn't click right away. Last season was his fifth in the league since being drafted in the seventh round in 2009. Bruschi had a similar experience, playing three seasons in the NFL before becoming a wire-to-wire starter in 1999.
"It took a lot of work," Belichick said of Edelman. "Julian has worked extremely hard and like I said, he’s developed skills at two areas -- punt returner and receiver -- that he didn’t have any experience at, and that’s not an easy thing to do at all. You’ve got to give him a lot of credit for the amount of work and dedication and training that he’s put into that."