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Preston: Ravens’ Gus Edwards is ready for starting role again

In a little less than a season Gus Edwards has gone from starter to understudy, and now back to starter again.

The second-year halfback out of Rutgers will start his first game of the season Sunday when the Ravens play the Pittsburgh Steelers in the regular-season finale at M&T Bank Stadium.

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Edwards will replace Mark Ingram II, who is out for several weeks with a calf strain injury he suffered in last Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns.

As a rookie, Edwards posted a team-high 718 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 137 carries as the Ravens finished with the second-best run game in the NFL. Even more impressive was that Edwards only started six of the 11 games in which he played after he began the season on the practice squad.

Now, with Ingram on the sideline, it’s his turn to shine again. The Ravens need 93 yards rushing to break an NFL single-season record held by the 1978 New Patriots (3,165 yards).

“To beat this team, we’re going to have to run the ball well. If we run it for 93 yards, I think that would be good,” Edwards said. “Everybody has a great mindset right now. Guys are going to step up, and we’re focused on winning more than anything. But to have the record would be nice, as well.”

Edwards has rushed 112 times for 581 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. There are times when he has looked fresher and more explosive than Ingram and the Ravens should have used him more. Maybe they wouldn’t need him now.

But Ingram and Edwards are a good combination. They both are downhill runners, meaning they make one cut and then accelerate into the line of scrimmage. When teams have had enough of Ingram, out trots the 6-foot-1, 238 pound Edwards.

He’s a bully too, but faster on the perimeter.

One might figure there would be some animosity between the two. Despite Edwards’ success last season the Ravens signed Ingram to a three-year, $15 million deal last March. The Ravens delayed in declaring the starter, but the team didn’t pay that type of money for Ingram to sit on the bench.

Ingram has played well. He is second on the team in rushing with 1,018 yards on 202 carries and has 10 touchdowns. He has become one of, if not, the primarily leader on the Ravens and certainly has influenced Edwards.

Edwards came into training camp anywhere from 12 to 20 pounds lighter just to compete with Ingram. Ingram will be on the sidelines Sunday working with Edwards.

“Mark is still going to be just as vocal out there,” Edwards said. “He’s going to be on the sideline with us, and he’s going to be at practice. I know he’s a team guy, so he’s going to make sure that he’s still heard there.

“I try to do everything that he does, like away from the field, all the little things he does. Sometimes, I get with him after practice and we run a little bit, do some balance drills. I just try to keep up with him.”

Ravens fans shouldn’t expect the same production out of Edwards on Sunday as they would get out of Ingram. First of all, the Steelers are ranked No. 4 in overall defense, 11th against the run. Like the Ravens, the Steelers pride themselves on being physical and shutting down the run.

Plus, the Raven won’t play quarterback Lamar Jackson and Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda. Jackson is the key to the Ravens running game. He forces a defense to have to play the entire field because of his speed on the outside, which opens up the inside running game.

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Quarterback Robert Griffin III, who will replace Jackson Sunday, is illusive but not in Jackson’s class as far as running the ball.

This could be a critical showing for Edwards. His contract is up after this season and his production could merit looks from other teams looking for a downhill runner.

On Sunday, he will be the lead runner with rookie Justice Hill as the backup. The Ravens are quite comfortable with both. Hill has rushed for 186 yards on 48 carries and scored his first touchdown of the year on an 18-yard run against the Browns last week.

“It starts with Mark, but you see Gus and you see what Justice brings to the table,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “Those three guys I think balance each other out great.

“I guess they complement each other really well, yes, because you have a speed guy and a quick guy and a smaller guy,” Harbaugh said of Edwards and Hill. “But I don’t want to take anything away from Gus’ acceleration, either. He’s just a bigger guy. But it was just reinforcing more than anything that they just played so well. It was good to see Justice break out and have a couple of runs. We’ve seen that from Gus. He’s been very consistent. So, that was good.”

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