The small, horizontal scar is barely discernible until Dwan Edwards stretches out his thick, bull neck, as if showing off a medal.
This is no medal, though. That scar and what lay beneath cost the Ravens defensive lineman the entire 2008 season and almost his career, all from an injury seemingly so inconsequential that Edwards didn't think he was hurt.
The bulging disc in his neck came from a blow to the head in an August preseason game one summer ago. It took five doctors and four months to convince Edwards that surgery was necessary to continue his career.
"I had some of our doctors not knowing if I was going to play again," Edwards said. "That's what I was told the first time they brought it to my attention after seeing some of my films [of his spine]. That was awful."
Spinal fusion of his C3 and C4 vertebrae last November was the solution. The result, one season later, is a healthy, reanimated Edwards finally getting the chance to deliver on the promise of his second-round selection in the 2004 draft.
In a six-year Ravens career defined more by fits and starts than sacks and tackles, Edwards is poised to move past the frustration of not playing and the threat of a career-ending injury.
"Dwan's an awfully hard worker," said Clarence Brooks, the Ravens' defensive line coach. "He studies the game, he's really professional. It was deemed by the way he's worked, he needs to have some time on the field, and that's what we're trying to do."
Edwards, 28, made his first start since 2007 on Sunday in Minnesota against the Vikings. Starting for Trevor Pryce, he had two tackles and one second-quarter sack of Brett Favre. The expectation is that Edwards and Pryce will continue to split time, a move, the coaches say, that will allow Pryce to be fresher in the fourth quarter.
Pryce also had a sack in the game, along with two quarterback hurries. Edwards, who has waited long for this kind of opportunity, said, "We're both starters."
Edwards thought he was ready for that opportunity after playing 12 games in 2005. But the Ravens signed Pryce the next season and his playing time went down. When Pryce missed most of the 2007 season, Edwards again stepped up and made 13 starts.
Then came the 2008 preseason mishap and a wasted year. Edwards believed he could work through the injury; doctors disagreed.
"I wasn't in any pain," he said. "I started the [preseason] game, finished the game, practiced the next day. I thought maybe I had a concussion. I felt fine. That was the thing that was so crazy about it."
Only after conferring with five doctors, a handful of trainers from other teams and several teammates did Edwards acquiesce to November surgery. The surgeon replaced one of his discs with a cadaver's.
He said he dealt with the uncertainty through his faith in God, by working out furiously and playing basketball (at 220 pounds, he averaged more than 20 points in high school). Once the initial soreness went away, he made progress.
"I think everybody saw the will, the determination he had to get better and get back," Brooks said. "And knowing him, if anybody was going to be able to do it, it was going to be him. Here we are, a year later, he's back playing and we're very happy. We need him; we did miss having him last season."
Edwards, 6 feet 3 and 290 pounds, had another choice to make in the offseason. His contract was up and he had to consider whether to stay or go. With little leverage after surgery, he signed a one-year deal.
"Looking at the fact I would have to move my family and learn a new system, I figured this was the best opportunity to come back and play well," Edwards said.
It could turn out to be a fortuitous decision. In six games this season, he has 10 tackles, one sack and a fumble-recovery touchdown. Through 46 career games and 15 starts with the Ravens, he has 122 tackles, two sacks and one interception.
"It's all about opportunity," he said. "I'm older and wiser now. I have gotten better."
Asked about Edwards before the Minnesota game, coach John Harbaugh said the Ravens needed to get Edwards onto the field more.
"Dwan Edwards has played really well," Harbaugh said. "There are some plays ... that he can play better. But he's playing very well - really good against the run, gets pretty good pressure against the pass."
So far, Edwards primarily has played outside at end in base packages, and inside at tackle in pass-rush situations. He doesn't feel the need, he said, to justify his status as a second-round draft pick. He's simply eager to make his mark.
"I just want to be the best player I can be," Edwards said. "That's all I can be. If that's not good enough for some people, that's tough. It's good enough for me. I can live with that."
Nov. 1, 1 p.m.
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