In the Week 5 primetime game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday Night Football, Bears defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. played just 14 snaps and 11 of them were passes.
According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Edwards pressured Bucs quarterback Tom Brady on three of those 11 pass rushes.
For a guy who doesn’t have many chances to showcase his talent, Edwards makes the most of them.
“I look at it like I'm here for a reason, so every chance I step on that field I try to give it my best,” Edwards said.
Edwards has taken a winding path to the Bears defensive line. He won a BCS National Championship with Florida State in 2014 and the Oakland Raiders selected him in the second round (35th overall) of the 2015 draft.
Injuries derailed the end of his rookie season and nearly the entire season after that. Edwards started 14 games for the Raiders in 2017, but had only 3.5 sacks to show for it. The Raiders waived him after that season.
He spent 2018 with the New York Giants and 2019 with the New Orleans Saints, but never played more than half his team’s defensive snaps in either season.
The Saints released Edwards near the end of training camp 2020 and the Bears scooped him up. Even with a crowded Bears defensive front, Edwards has found a role.
“He’s a rough rider,” Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. “He’s a hard charger. He’s athletic. He’s twitchy. He’s not the biggest guy, obviously, in the room, but he will go in there and he will do the dirty work for you. He will fight and he will scrap.
“But then when it comes to third down, he’s been really productive, affecting the quarterback. He gives you really, really meaningful snaps in there.”
Edwards recorded his first sack of the season last week against the Carolina Panthers. It came on a third down in the fourth quarter of the Bears’ 23-16 win. He hasn’t played in more than 31% of the Bears’ defensive snaps in any game, but Edwards is still being felt by opposing quarterbacks.
Edwards said the opportunity to play with Khalil Mack was a big reason why he came to Chicago. The two were teammates together in Oakland.
Defensive tackle Bilal Nichols called Edwards “explosive.” He said Edwards’ emergence just goes to show how dangerous the Bears pass rush.
“Everybody can make a play,” Nichols said. “Everybody can be dominant. That’s what you want. And that’s what we demand out of each other each and every day that we have practice.”
Edwards has provided a change of pace when Nichols needs a rest. The Bears still miss starting nose tackle Eddie Goldman, who opted out of the 2020 season, but Nichols, Edwards and Roy Robertson-Harris have done their best to fill in.
“I’m finally getting in my groove,” Edwards said. “And, of course, to be able to be versatile to play inside and do multiple things is why I think I'm still playing at a pretty good level.”