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The Squirrel’s Still Got It: Julian Edelman showing Patriots can still count on him at age 34

NFL: Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

No one could fault Julian Edelman if his motivation was beginning to wane heading into the 2020 season. After his quarterback/best friend, Tom Brady, left him for the sunny weather in Tampa Bay, and with three Super Bowl rings already on his resume, it’s fair to wonder if Edelman would have as many reasons to suit up for the New England Patriots in 2020 as he has had in previous season.

With the state of the Patriots wide receiving corps, and a new starting quarterback to help ease in, Edelman’s value to the team was as high as ever coming into 2020. As long as he wanted to come back, he was going to be one of the focal point’s of this offense this season, once again. This team needed him, badly.

But it hasn’t been the easiest start to the 2020 season for the aging receiver. Edelman was clearly on a pitch count in training camp, managing a nagging knee injury that he is still dealing with, per the most recent injury report for the Patriots on Friday afternoon.

Nevertheless, he has continued to put his head down and work hard to stay on the field and produce for his team.

“Honestly, this has been a grind,” said Edelman, when asked in August about the toll that training camp had taken on him this year. “We’ve been having six days of practices — or usually, you’d have four days off, or four days on, a day off, you break up when you start playing other teams in the preseason. This has been a straight grind the whole time.”

Edelman was asked at the time if the reason for the extra days off he was receiving was to manage the wear and tear on his body.

“I’ve been playing here, this is my 12th year, this is the first time I’ve really done this,” said Edelman, referencing the pitch count he was being kept on.

So what keeps Edelman going now, with no Tom Brady throwing him passes anymore, with a career resume chalk-full of impressive accomplishments?

“I love to compete and I love football. Plain and simple,” said Edelman today. “I mean, it’s better than being in a cubicle. I think it’s an unbelievable job. I love the locker room. I love the life, and I just love football. It’s something I’ve been doing since I was 8 years old I’ve been around it since I was in diapers. It’s something that is very up there on my totem pole of importance in my life.”

Despite battling that nagging knee injury, Edelman has been as dependable as ever to start the season, something that his new quarterback, Cam Newton, has been greatly appreciative of.

“I see guys like Julian, I can say I’ve never had a receiver like that, outside of like Steve Smith; a person who was a veteran and understood what it took,” said Newton in an early September interview with The Greg Hill Show on WEEI.

Edelman, unsurprisingly, has emerged as Newton’s favorite target to begin the season. Edelman has 236 yards receiving after two weeks, highlighted by a career-high in receiving yards against Seattle last week, with 179 yards on eight catches.

With Brady gone, Edelman has assumed the role of elder statesman of the Patriots offense. The squirrelly receiver has long been one of the emotional leaders of this team, but with Brady gone, Edelman must shoulder even more leadership responsibility now— both on and off the field.

When asked about his relationship with second-year receiver N’Keal Harry, Edelman said, “I just kind of share with him little things that helped me when I was young,”

“We’ve all been young in the locker room, we’ve all been new to an environment, and I don’t know anywhere else, but here, it’s a little different, I guess. That’s what everyone says. You just try to give him little tidbits on things that make things more routine and comfortable for him.”

“So that’s what I try to do, lead by example. If I see something that could be better, if I see something or if he as a question, I could be the guy that he can ask a question to, so that’s what I try to do.”

Year 12 and no signs of let-up from Julian Edelman. For this Patriots team to reach the postseason and make a run at another Super Bowl, they will need to continue to lean on Edelman heavily. That he is able to shoulder that same gargantuan load, at age 34, with plenty of miles on his legs, says a lot about Edelman.