Trent Edwards is only entering his fourth NFL season, but he's experienced just about all the ups and downs possible in a young career. Multiple quarterback competitions, multiple offensive systems, multiple coordinators and the loss of the starting quarterback job in 2009. Edwards however, has successfully come out on the other side of all of those hardships with his name next to the starting quarterback job, eager to prove that his future still holds promise despite a rocky past.
"I feel like I've been through a lot in my career here," said Edwards. "I feel like I've seen it all. I've seen the highs and lows and I'm still standing here, I'm still enjoying the sport I love. I do feel like the thing I'm doing when I come to work every day is I'm carrying myself the way I want to see my teammates carry themselves. So, I'm a reflection of them, they're a reflection of me and I'm making sure I'm doing everything I can to help this team win. That's what I want out of my teammates and that's the attitude and the approach I'm taking. Hopefully the other guys can see that."
Evidence that his teammates have seen a change in Edwards came in his re-election as offensive co-captain for the 2010 campaign on Wednesday. A strong statement after they elected him captain in 2009 only to watch him struggle and lose the starting job amid a sea of change that virtually ensured failure for the Bills offense.
"I think he's earned the position that he's in and he played well through the preseason," said Lee Evans. "He's playing with a lot more confidence and hopefully as this year goes along that builds and we're much better as an offense."
Edwards is entering his third season as a full-time starter. His two previous years in that role do not necessarily convince Bills fans that 2010 will be decidedly different. There are however, examples of other quarterbacks in the NFL that took a step back in year two as a starter only to take two steps forward in year three.
In his first year as an NFL starter (2002), Drew Brees led the San Diego Chargers to an 8-8 record. Certainly nothing to write home about, but it was improvement from the season prior when the club went 5-11 with Doug Flutie at quarterback. Entering season two as the starter Brees fell on hard times. His play was very inconsistent as he led the team to a 1-7 start and was given a seat on the bench for five straight weeks, losing his starting job much like Edwards last season.
Bills GM Buddy Nix, who was serving as Chargers Director of Player Personnel and later as Assistant GM during that time, remembers all too well the struggles Brees had.
"The thing with Drew is that he kind of had the first two or three years was about like what Trent had," said Nix. "He was up and down and injured a little bit, but Drew Brees is a fierce competitor. He's a guy that if you tell him he can't, he will."
Though he returned to play the final three games of the season Brees' numbers had dipped across the board and he had thrown four more interceptions than touchdown passes. It got to the point where the Chargers organization was committed to moving in a different direction at quarterback that offseason.
"When we drafted Philip Rivers, we drafted him to be the quarterback that year," said Nix. "But he held out and then he never saw the field for two years because Drew Brees wouldn't let him have it. He elevated his play tremendously, just because we didn't have enough confidence in him that we drafted somebody else."
Brees' third year as a starter was nothing short of impressive. After a 3-3 start, Brees led the Chargers to wins in nine of their last 10 games en route to a 12-4 finish and the AFC West title. His passing touchdowns more than doubled from the season before while his interceptions were cut in half.
For Edwards, the Bills did not bring in a high draft choice as immediate competition following the 2009 season, despite the fact that they hired a new coaching staff. Ironically, the staff could very well be what helps to change Edwards' game the most.
"I watched Buffalo quite a lot this preseason," said former Super Bowl MVP and CBS NFL analyst Phil Simms. "I was impressed with what I saw and I thought Trent Edwards looked as good as I've ever seen him look.
"I've known Chan Gailey since he was down there with Coach Cowher (Pittsburgh Steelers 1994-1997) and talked to him many times. I think he has a unique ability to really communicate to the quarterback. I think he makes them feel comfortable and history tells us he's done a good job with just about everybody he's worked with. And he's a play caller that's always going to give his quarterbacks some easy throws to keep the confidence level high whether it's the screens, or this or that. He's always got a few wrinkles. I think Trent Edwards is going to have a good, solid year."
Nix doesn't try to compare Edwards to quarterbacks of the past, but he is quick to compare the circumstances surrounding them. As far as he's concerned there aren't many that have had it as tough as Edwards.
"When you look back at a lot of the quarterbacks, you look at Troy Aikman, and some of those guys that started right away and were awful," Nix said. "Then by their third or fourth year it all slowed down for them. I think a lot of that is the scheme they're in and (team) continuity. Trent has had none of that. It's hard to survive in that situation."
But Edwards has survived and appears to be in a position to rebound with a head coach and offensive coordinator in Gailey that has brought stability to the offense and a play calling acumen that will set his starting signal caller up to be consistent with his game, something Edwards wholeheartedly welcomes.
"I feel comfortable in the fact that Chan does a really good job of explaining what the quarterback's responsibilities are on each play and that I get my questions answered," said Edwards. "I know what I'm coached to do. As a player, that's one less thing to worry about. You're just kind of out there reacting and you know what you're doing, your comfort level goes up and that all stems from having Chan be there to help us out."
"He's gotten better. He has a much better understanding of what we're trying to do on offense. He seems to understand protections and routes and how things go together, and he's a very accurate thrower," said Gailey. "If we can give him time and guys will continue to work then he has a chance to have a very good year. We've got to keep progressing. I've seen a light at the end of the tunnel and that's what you're looking for, a light at the end of the tunnel."
"It doesn't get any tougher than it has been on Trent," said Nix. "It's upward from here. That's what I think."