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Ray Edwards of the Vikings reacts after sacking Tony Romo of the Cowboys during a divisional playoff football game Jan. 17 in Minneapolis. (Associated Press)

Boxing workouts helped Edwards prepare for 2010

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By Dave Campbell, AP Sports Writer

MANKATO -- Ray Edwards is 6-foot-5, so he always walks tall.

Even as he left the field following a sweltering practice on Monday morning, though, his stride was smooth and his head was held high. The upper-80s heat and thick humidity didn't faze him.

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Edwards, the emerging Minnesota Vikings defensive end, spent a week of his offseason working out at a renowned boxing facility in Detroit in searing conditions he estimated at 110 degrees.

With instructor Emanuel Steward at Kronk Gym, Edwards took one of many steps to make his body more lean and get ready for the wear and tear of another full season.

"Boxing gets you light on your feet," Edwards said. "Definitely works on opening your hips and twisting well. Another career, maybe. Definitely helps your conditioning."

Frustrated by his contract situation, Edwards opted to train on his own during the offseason rather than lifting, running and practicing with his teammates.

Offered a one-year tender as a restricted free agent, Edwards waited until the deadline to sign it and skipped minicamp.

Mild-mannered defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier even teased Edwards at the first meeting of training camp about his extended absence from the team.

"I said, 'I'm looking forward to seeing you get on the field, Ray, because I don't think you're in good shape,"' Frazier said, smiling. "Everybody in the room kind of laughed, but he was in great shape."

Edwards also spent time at a mixed martial arts gym in the Twin Cities area in addition to his usual strength and conditioning program. He paid more attention to nutrition, too.

"My workouts were crazy this offseason," Edwards said, adding: "I was working out three times a day. Just trying to get better."

Edwards certainly got better last year, his third as a starter after being drafted in the fourth round out of Purdue in 2006. He had 8½ sacks, plus four more in the playoffs.

In Minnesota's divisional round win over Dallas, Edwards had three sacks, five quarterback hurries, eight tackles -- including two for a loss, according to the coaching staff's film review -- and a forced fumble in not much more than 30 minutes of action before hurting his knee.

"It was a great game. I just wish I could've completed it," Edwards said. "Hopefully I can just keep building on that and getting better and better."

He's been more productive late in the season, and his intent in 2010 is to find a consistent level of play. He admitted he's been distracted by personal goals and other off-the-field pursuits in the past.

The contract situation, he said, is behind him for now. Prevented from unrestricted free agency, along with dozens of other players around the league when the owners opted out of the collective bargaining agreement and triggered a salary-cap-free season, Edwards is confident he'll be rewarded in time.

"If it was my choice, of course I'd want a new contract," Edwards said. "But it's not, so I'm not even worried about that no more. I'm just here to play ball."

Teammate Pat Williams encouraged him to block the business side of his career out as best he can.

"I was in the same predicament," Williams said. "If it's meant for you to get paid, you're going to get paid regardless."

The line of Edwards and Jared Allen and Kevin Williams and Pat Williams inside is easily one of the best, if not the best, in the NFL. This is the alpha-male position group on the team, a colorful bunch of characters that provides as much leadership as it does production. Minnesota's 48 sacks led the league last season, and Allen talked recently about a goal of 50 this year.

"I think it's a challenge to each other," he said. "We're always having contests between each other. Who is going to lead the team in tackles? Who is going to lead the team in sacks? We know if we take care of our job, the rest of it is going to take care of itself."

Edwards has been the lesser-known and less-accomplished member of the quartet, but he's on the right track to become more of a prominent player.

"I'm not living off of Jared, Pat and Kevin," Edwards said, adding: "I'm working on my own legacy."

The Vikings are just fine with that.

"His work ethic throughout the year really paid off for him at the end of the year when the other guys were beat up and tired," Frazier said. "He was really hitting his stride, reaching his peak at the right time."

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