When asked about Ravens running back Gus Edwards, coach John Harbaugh gave a description of the soft-spoken third-year player that seemed to match his running style.
“He’s a straightforward kind of a guy [with his] work ethic, personality [and] professionalism,” Harbaugh said. “He has a lot of talent. Yes, I would say it hasn’t changed one bit. That’s who he is.”
Earlier in the season, offensive coordinator Greg Roman referred to Edwards as a “closer,” a bruising late-game option for tired defenses after tackling Mark Ingram II for the majority of a game. But Edwards has ascended into more of a starring role alongside rookie J.K. Dobbins in recent weeks, showcasing elusiveness that was the focal point of offseason workouts.
As an undrafted rookie free agent from 2018, Edwards burst onto the scene late in the season as the Ravens turned to then-rookie Lamar Jackson and a run-oriented approach. Edwards, currently listed at 6-foot-1 and 238 pounds, was a perfect complement for the shifty Jackson. Edwards was a burly downhill runner who forced defenses to monitor inside runs while Jackson posed a threat on the edge on read-option plays. In the final seven games of the season that Jackson started, Edwards rushed for 654 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 5.27 yards per carry.
In his second season, Edwards returned to a backup role with the team’s acquisition of Ingram and he was maybe even better. Just five of Edwards’ 133 carries in 2019 resulted in negative yardage. As Edwards and Ingram returned for the 2020 season, as well as second-year back Justice Hill, and the team drafted Dobbins in the second round of the NFL draft, Edwards went to work to become an all-around back.
Edwards spent much of an offseason warped by the coronavirus pandemic working out with Baltimore-based trainer P.J. Quarrie, who also trained Hill, wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and other Ravens players before the start of the season.
It wasn’t the first time Edwards embarked on speed training — he did so after a disappointing 40 time at his Pro Day at Rutgers — but Quarrie sought to improve Edwards’ footwork, the core of any good running back.
“If we don’t address the feet and the ankle first, then you’re actually doing any athletes a disservice,” Quarrie said in an interview.
The foundation of Edwards’ training was single-leg plyometric exercises, much of the workouts conducted barefoot, to strengthen his feet and ankles. Over time, Quarrie began to notice Edwards’ calves grow and his balance improved.
“His movements are powerful,” Quarrie said. “He has to be able to push off the ground, redirect, [deaccelerate], redirect, [accelerate, deaccelerate]. If you don’t have that power to push into the ground and control your body weight, then you’re not going to be effective.”
The Ravens’ backfield has been a source of befuddlement for fans and fantasy football enthusiasts alike. Bound to a committee approach, Roman attempted to split snaps evenly among Ingram, Edwards and Dobbins early on. But with the trio and Jackson, who remains the team’s most potent option on the ground, carries for each running back have come few and far between at times.
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At five yards per carry this season, Edwards (108 carries, 536 yards, six touchdowns) is averaging a tick below the numbers from his first two seasons but he remains one of the league’s most efficient runners. His rush yards over expected — a statistic that measures the difference between actual rushing yards and expected rushing yards on an individual play or series of plays — ranks fifth in the NFL, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats.
And in the team’s two most recent games, against the Cleveland Browns and Dallas Cowboys, Quarrie could see the manifestation of Edwards’ offseason work. In the team’s 47-42 win over the Browns on Monday night, Edwards (seven carries, 49 yards, two touchdowns) took a shotgun handoff from Jackson on the opening drive of the third quarter and followed a pulling Bradley Bozeman to the right side of the offensive line. But after shedding an ankle tackle right beyond the line of scrimmage, Edwards reversed field and outran another defender to the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown.
In the 34-17 win over the Cowboys, Edwards (seven carries, 101 yards) executed a dead leg move that made defensive back Rashard Robinson whiff on a low tackle attempt while Edwards flew past him for a 36-yard run, the fourth-longest of his career.
“There’s a lot of stuff that goes on before you get to the secondary, too, that takes a lot of agility work, cutting back into the hole,” Edwards said. “I’ve felt [the improvement] all along, recently I’ve just been able to get into space more often. So I feel like that’s why people have been noticing it.”
Edwards, who will become a restricted free agent at the end of the season, still hasn’t become a fixture in the passing game, with just four catches on eight targets. But with his efficiency as a runner and improved short-area quickness, his days in relative anonymity could be numbered.
The player known in Baltimore as “Gus The Bus” has switched gears for a running game that has totaled over 200 yards in back-to-back games for the first time since the end of the 2019 regular season. And his teammates are well aware, with Ingram remarking during the Browns game that Edwards is no more a “school bus,” but a “Tesla bus.”
“I believe I’m a starting back,” Edwards said. “I just try to prove that every time I touch the ball. I don’t think I’m just a power back. Any type of runs, any type of situation, I think that I can do it all.”