Rookie Terrell Edmunds brings 'take charge' attitude to Steelers

PITTSBURGH -- After more than two decades of coordinating Virginia Tech's successful defense, Bud Foster's words carry weight in NFL circles.

So when Foster brings up former Virginia Tech star and All-Pro safety Kam Chancellor in his description of safety Terrell Edmunds, an "Oh, for real?" response is only natural.

Though Foster is hesitant to directly compare anyone to a player as accomplished as Chancellor, he can't help but see the similarities in Edmunds, the Pittsburgh Steelers' new first-round draft pick out of Virginia Tech.

"The ability to play in the box and be physical with size while playing in some space, I think he has those same qualities," Foster said of Edmunds by phone on Monday. "This kid might have a little bit more speed."

The Steelers' great safety experiment begins Tuesday, the start of organized team activities, with Edmunds commanding a spotlight. The Steelers knew they couldn't replace linebacker Ryan Shazier in the 2018 NFL draft, so they drafted a bunch of safeties instead, with Edmunds going 28th overall and Penn State's Marcus Allen landing in the fifth round.

Coach Mike Tomlin's wacky defensive trial will most likely feature sizable safeties such as Edmunds (6-foot-1, 217 pounds) up in the box as a linebacker on pass-happy downs at some point this season.

The Steelers have veteran safeties Morgan Burnett and Sean Davis ready to handle much of the workload, at least early. But the franchise never plans to stash first-round picks, and defensive coordinator Keith Butler recently told Steelers.com that the team believes Edmunds' "pedigree can help us." Edmunds is the son of a former NFL tight end Ferrell Edmunds and one of three brothers in professional football.

In other words, Edmunds will get every chance to disprove those who believe he's a reach pick. Though Edmunds earned high marks for athleticism (a 4.47-second 40-yard dash, 41.5-inch vertical jump) and football IQ in team interviews, many prominent draft analysts pegged Edmunds as a Day 2 draft selection.

Based on how Edmunds approaches these workouts, a Day 2 grade is too generous.

"You just come out with the mentality that you weren’t picked at all," Edmunds said. "You can’t think that you are first-round pick and everything is going to fall to you. I come out here and compete every day; I try to put my all out there. I am not thinking about I am a first-round pick and it is just going to come to me, so I am coming out and competing every day."

Foster tried to equip Edmunds for the NFL, thanks to his extensive list of responsibilities on the field each Saturday. Edmunds was tasked with relaying the defensive checks to the backfield, and each play carried four or five formation possibilities against an up-tempo offense.

The work ethic already was in place, said Foster, who noted that several NFL coaches, including Tomlin, praised Edmunds' football knowledge in interview settings.

Foster said he played Edmunds at corner, free safety, nickel corner or rover (assigned to stop the best opposing player).

"His maturity level and how he handles himself really helps him; he can play man, coverage, deep third, deep half, blitz," Foster said. "He wants to be a leader. He will be a guy who will take charge."

Taking charge is rarely easy for rookies learning a new system and playing behind veterans. But Butler makes clear he's looking for "loudmouths" on defense for improved communication, and he believes Edmunds can help with that.

To validate Butler's trust, Edmunds plans to heed advice from his father, who caught 148 passes with the Miami Dolphins and Seattle Seahawks from 1988 to 1994.

"My dad always told me nothing comes easy," Edmunds said. "We always had to work for whatever we had. We’re coming in with the mindset that nothing is a given. Regardless what round you go, once you get here, it’s time to start everything over."