'He’s really hungry': Gus Edwards’ speed training helped Ravens' undrafted rookie break out

Before joining the Ravens as an undrafted rookie, before getting promoted to the active roster and before becoming a fantasy football darling, Gus Edwards took part in Rutgers’ Pro Day in early March and finished the 40-yard dash in 4.52 and 4.53 seconds. Despite posting a time that is probably faster than what the vast majority of the world’s population could muster, the running back wasn’t happy.

“I’ve run faster than that,” Edwards said, adding that his best time was a 4.4. “It was indoors, and it was kind of cold in there, but that’s no excuse. I just wasn’t as fast as my fastest that day.”

So between the Pro Day and the NFL draft in late April, Edwards sought out Ken Munson, the nephew of his former head football coach at Tottenville High School in Staten Island, N.Y. Munson, who owns Parisi Speed School in Staten Island, crafted a training regimen to improve Edwards’ speed and conditioning while retaining his strength.

Edwards never ran the 40 again, but his athletic ability was on full display in the Ravens’ 24-21 win against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. On just 17 carries, he rushed for 115 yards for an average of 6.8 yards per carry, scored his first touchdown on an 11-yard run and added a 2-point conversion in the third quarter.

Edwards, who recorded the most rushing yards by an undrafted rookie this season, became a hotly-pursued free agent in fantasy football, going from being owned by 0.1 percent of teams in leagues on NFL.com to 33.4 percent on Wednesday, the third biggest jump. His showing might have been startling to many, but not to Munson.

“I knew that if he got the opportunity, he was going to succeed,” he said.

Munson said the workouts he designed for Edwards would run between 60 and 75 minutes long. After a 15-minute warmup, Edwards would run through cone and ladder drills to improve his footwork, complete a series of 30-yard gassers to enhance his straight-line speed, strengthen his upper body with battle ropes, chin-ups and bear crawls and finish off the session with core exercises involving planks, toe touches and Russian twists.

“We were just fine-tuning some little things as far as conditioning, working on his knee drive, stuff like that, stuff that he needed to get better at,” Munson said. “With Gus, he’s strong, big and fast — all the stuff they look for. So with any elite guy like that, we’re just fine-tuning some little things and getting him in shape and making sure he’s ready to go.”

Edwards is grateful for Munson’s work, saying: “It helped me get in shape. I wanted to work on my footwork, and I went to him for that.”

Edwards wasn’t selected in April’s NFL draft, but said he has gained a new appreciation for the journey he took to get to this stage.

“It’s been hard, but I don’t feel like any path is necessarily easy,” he said. “It’s a hard league. There are only 32 teams, and there are a whole bunch of people that want to play football. It’s hard — regardless of your path — to get on that field. So it’s just a blessing to me.”

The first thing that stands out about Edwards is his size at 6 feet 1 and 238 pounds. But that frame tends to overshadow his speed.

“He definitely has speed,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “He has good acceleration, he runs hard, he’s a north-south guy, and he’s 240-plus. Yes, he’s doing a good job, and he has that big-back-type build, which is a big plus.”

Edwards’ one-gap running style is welcomed by offensive linemen such as left tackle Ronnie Stanley, who said Edwards brings “that power inside and really hitting the holes hard. He’s really hungry, and he enjoys getting those opportunities. He relishes it.”

Edwards was rewarded with a 90.4 overall grade by analytics website Pro Football Focus, the highest on the team Sunday. He led all running backs in Week 11 in elusiveness, forcing eight missed tackles and averaging 5.4 yards after contact per attempt, according to PFF.

Edwards and quarterback Lamar Jackson — who added 117 yards on 27 attempts — became the first rookie running back and quarterback to each rush for 100 yards. They are also the second pair of rookie teammates to run for more than 100 yards in a game since 1966. The New Orleans Saints’ Chuck Muncie and Tony Galbreath did so in 1976.

Edwards apparently made an impression with coach Jon Gruden, whose Oakland Raiders will visit M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday for a 1 p.m. kickoff.

“I think what you’re seeing is the beginning of something that’s really exciting if you’re a Ravens fan,” Gruden said. “I think Lamar Jackson going one way and this back going the other way is going to be a problem for defenses, and once they get their passing game going, watch out. But he is a hard runner, and he has some burst. He has some elusiveness, and he has, I think, the ability to make long runs.”

Edwards, who was cut by the Ravens after the preseason and signed to the practice squad, was elevated to the active roster Oct. 13 after fellow undrafted rookie running back De’Lance Turner was placed on injured reserve because of a hamstring ailment.

Turner is fully supportive of Edwards, who was his former roommate during training camp and for road games.

“We had these conversations with each other in the room — the what-ifs and what-nots,” Turner said. “We just tried to keep each other level-headed throughout the whole process, and whoever had that shot, we were going to be happy for each other either way.”

Despite his success Sunday, Edwards said he is not content. “That’s just not my personality,” he said.

Edwards declined to say whether he would make his first start Sunday against the Oakland Raiders. But his intention is clear.

“I’ve got to do it again next week,” he said. “That’s what is expected of me. So I have to do that.”

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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