Breaking down Mario Edwards Jr.’s injury implications for the Oakland Raiders and how it magnifies Aldon Smith’s absence during his current suspension.
In the ways that preseason football games can bring most fans excitement, there are other ways in which nothing but frustration and anger can arise from them. Case in point, Mario Edwards Jr., and Gabe Holmes.
The Holmes injury ultimately will not affect the tight end rotation, or cause the coaching staff to lose sleep at night. It actually solves a roster battle for them. Although, and while not ideal, Holmes had a legit opportunity to make the 53-man roster. Instead, he could be heading, and in worst case scenario to the season-ending IR list. As for the Edwards injury, this one could prove to be a damningly impactful situation.
Edwards started Friday’s preseason game, as expected, opposite Khalil Mack. The starters lasted two series, with Edwards sustaining a hip injury to begin the second of those two. Initial reports maintain that it is only minor, and nothing serious. However, those paying attention to Del Rio and Oakland’s PR team this past year, mum has always been the word when discussing a players’ health. Should Edwards’ hip injury be, and hopefully not, a long-term situation, or should he never fully recover through rehab causing the hip to remain nagging throughout the season, the importance of the Aldon Smith situation suddenly becomes very intriguing.
What we know is that Edwards will likely miss at least one game, Week 1 against the Saints and could perhaps miss further action with an injury timeframe of 4-6 weeks.
Having Edwards healthy and in the lineup gives the Raiders’ front seven undeniable flexibility that few teams can deploy. A talented, young, up-and-coming interior and outside pass-rusher who can play the run exceptionally well is not a toy defensive coordinators can afford to lose. The balance of having Edwards on the field, or even just at hand, further deepens the Raiders’ versatility. Ken Norton can fluidly cycle through 4-3, 3-4 and 5-2 schemes with Edwards healthy. Although McKenzie drafted up front in the second and third rounds, having a talent like Edwards was important in transitioning those rookies to the NFL.
Surprisingly, Jihad Ward seems skilled enough and violent enough to have a Mario Edwards-like rookie year. Considering many pundits labeled him a “project” type player, this should bode well for the Silver and Black. Shilique Calhoun does not have the tools or the weight at this stage of his career to fill in amicably as an NFL defensive end. Denico Autry has the ability to play inside and out as Edwards did, and is seemingly the most qualified to fill in for Edwards. Yet he is also returning from a wrist injury that had him sidelined until recently.
Adding these players up without including Edwards suddenly thins this unit out. If the Raiders find themselves in a dead heat for the division title late in the season without Mario Edwards, and Aldon Smith is reinstated by Week 11, he could be an extremely welcomed addition for a playoff bound team.
6’4 pass rushers of Smith’s caliber do not necessarily fall off trees, but his skill is undeniable. And, as we all are aware of, so is his resume. No doubt he will be rusty, and there will be a learning curve for him lining up alongside new and familiar faces alike. However, this should not deter the Raiders. The former All-Pro should instantly be inserted in the rotation to further their versatility. This will only help to bolster their front, and the defensive unit overall.
Although it remains to be seen if either Ward or Calhoun could supplant an Edwards loss, they still have to prove it. If for some reason a worst-case scenario can turn into a best-case scenario down the road, McKenzie’s move to sign Smith to a two-year deal in the offseason could be a nice little nest egg for this franchise come a late season division title run.