The injury that derailed Cornelius Edison last year wasn’t all that different than the one that elevated him to much-needed insurance policy for the Bears earlier this month.
While training for the NFL draft last year, the Portland State center backpedaled in his stance, took an awkward step, and felt the ACL in his left knee pop. He didn’t return to football relevance until late November, when the Bears signed him to spend the last four games on the practice squad.
Saturday, fully healed but aching for experience, Edison figures to start the Bears’ all-important third exhibition game. He does so with only 12 games of center experience to his name — his senior year at the Div. I-AA school, though he did win the Rimington Award, given to the nation’s best at the position, for his efforts.
“I was always confident in my abilities,” the 6-3, 309 pounder said Wednesday after practice at Halas Hall. “It just took me a longer way to get here and just made me appreciate, when I’m here, that this is meant for me. And I just gotta keep working hard no matter what my situation is.”
The situation is this: Edison is, at least for now, the personification of the Bears’ banged-up offensive line.
When right guard Kyle Long injured his shoulder late last week, Ted Larsen moved from center to take his place. Larsen had been the Bears’ sixth lineman until Family Fest, when center Hroniss Grasu tore his ACL the same way Edison did last year — in a non-contract incident.
Wednesday, right tackle Bobby Massie missed practice with an illness; the Bears list veteran Garry Williams as his backup. The Bears’ lineup for Saturday, as of now, has only one offensive line starter who played for the team last year: left tackle Charles Leno.
That leaves a lot of responsibility for Edison, who has appeared in two career preseason games.
“He’s trying to do everything we ask him to do,” quarterback Jay Cutler said. “It’s different, I think, stepping into that huddle with so many guys up there. And then you have to be the voice for those five.”
Whether the current iteration of the Bears’ line can build chemistry by Saturday isn’t nearly as important as whether the team will be forced to use the same five men in Week 1.
If Long were to return for the opener against the Texans, Larsen will move back to center. Regardless, the Bears could turn to a veteran interior lineman when teams begin to make cuts next week; some thought they could be interested in center Bryan Stork when the Patriots cut ties with him Wednesday.
The Bears entered camp thin guard and center, anyway, thanks to the retirement of center Manny Ramirez.
The Bears have ensured that Edison — who said his mobility helped attract the Bears to him — gets as many snaps as he can in practice.
Larsen said “the whole week is in a mini-season” leading up to the Chiefs game Saturday, where the first team figures to play at least the first half. It will be the Bears’ biggest test of the preseason — and certainly Edison’s.
“I can help him on the field, I can help him in meetings,” said Larsen, entering his seventh NFL season. “And kinda guide him and put him on an accelerated path to starting.”
An art major in college, Edison waxed poetic about the veteran’s assistance.
“Just helping me get into the playbook and just able to recognize things before they happen,” he said. “And see with my eyes rather than rely on my physical abilities.”
What he’ll see will be different than anything he witnessed at Portland State.
“It’s always a challenge,” he said, “when you have a 300-pound man right across and trying to take your head off.”