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Edelman gets off to fast start

Rookie’s debut is one to remember

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By Chris Forsberg
Globe Staff / August 14, 2009

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PHILADELPHIA - As a herd of reporters gathered around Julian Edelman’s makeshift locker - the one he shared with fellow rookie Terrence Nunn, next to Tom Brady’s full stall - to talk about his dazzling NFL debut, the veterans nearby gave the seventh-round draft choice a little grief for the celebrity typically reserved for No. 12.

Rookies are supposed to do their talking on the field. And while Edelman’s play spoke volumes during the Patriots’ 27-25 exhibition triumph over the Eagles last night at Lincoln Financial Field, the veterans weren’t about to let him get a big head over it.

The Patriots’ media relations staff eventually sneaked Edelman out of the locker room to tackle a handful of questions, and the Kent State product was sure to stick to the company lines.

“I have a long way to go,’’ said Edelman, who made a tackle on the game’s opening kickoff, then didn’t stop making plays the rest of the night, including an electrifying 75-yard punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter in which Edelman made a lightning-quick cutback along the sideline before leaving a trail of Eagles in his wake.

“I have a lot to learn. That play - the punt return - everyone just executed the play the way we designed it to be. One thing led to another. Totally a team effort, the blocks were there. They did their job, I did mine.’’

It’s the fact that Edelman is doing this type of job after just a few months in the NFL - and particularly in his first game on the big stage - that’s remarkable. The Patriots knew he was fast coming out of college (in his senior year at Kent State, Edelman broke Joshua Cribbs’s school record for total offense in a season by passing for 1,820 yards and leading the team with 1,551 yards rushing).

Now they know he’s also a fast learner.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick and special teams coach Scott O’Brien had cautioned against expecting too much too soon from Edelman during the early days of training camp. During those first sessions, he endured days when he dropped multiple punts, the cardinal sin of that position.

Asked for a review last night, Belichick didn’t appear overly impressed. He seemed grateful for the points, but admitted that the big play might have kept Brady off the field for an extra series. What’s a rookie got to do to earn some respect?

“Julian’s been a guy that’s good with the ball in his hands,’’ said Belichick. “He’s shown that through camp. I thought he made a nice cut there, cut it back, a couple guys could have had him there on the sideline, but he cut it back and took it into the end zone. He ran the ball a lot in college, he’s had the opportunity to do that at training camp and showed it there, too.’’

When he wasn’t shining on special teams - his likely role if he makes the team - Edelman showed he could eventually have a role in the offense. If you didn’t look closely enough, you might not have noticed Wes Welker wasn’t on the field. Edelman lined up in the slot with the first-team offense and caught a team-high five passes, including the first completion of the game for Brady.

“I’m there when Coach needs me,’’ said Edelman. “If someone goes down, players have to step up, fill voids. All I was doing was trying to help the team.’’

Asked if the game exceeded even his expectations, Edelman couldn’t help but agree.

“I mean, of course, it’s your first NFL game,’’ he said. “I’ve got a lot to learn, a lot more to do, to help this team and contribute to this team.’’

And with that, the media relations department whisked him away.

Rookies aren’t meant to be heard from off the field.

Chris Forsberg can be reached at cforsberg@boston.com.

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