WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Kasim Edebali grew up dreaming about playing in NFL Europe.
Growing up in Germany, he was close enough to touch the team and dream about the possibility of suiting up for his hometown Hamburg Sea Devil. He didn’t let his dreams wander across the ocean toward the actual NFL. It was too far away. It didn’t seem like a practical goal.
Now, Edebali, who attended Boston College and signed with Saints as an undrafted free agent last year, is dreaming about breaking out this season and becoming a key piece of the Saints’ pass rush. Could he reach double-digit sacks? The idea doesn’t seem unpractical to him.
“I’m really confident in my ability,” Edebali said. “That’s why you play the game. You want to be the best at what you do. I know you start at the bottom, but you want to keep working, want to keep getting better.”
Edebali was used sparingly as a rookie, logging two sacks over 181 snaps, but his growth since last season has been impossible to ignore throughout the first week of camp. The linebacker has displayed an explosive first step off the line of scrimmage and has been one of the more consistent performers during one-on-one pass rushing drills, which has created some early intrigue around him.
While Edebali hasn’t cracked the starting lineup in the base defense, he’s been logging snaps with the first team when the defense is in its nickel packages. If he continues to man that spot, he should see a major increase in playing time since the Saints used their nickel defense on nearly 70 percent of their snaps last season.
“I’d say, he made the team last year as a free agent so I think his impression was positive from the beginning and now it’s just receiving that opportunity, more opportunities maybe on defense,” coach Sean Payton said. “He did a good enough job last year that we felt there was a spot that he was going to help us.”
Edebali said he believes his greatest strength is his quick first step, but he spent the past year trying to become a more refined pass rusher. He watched tape of Cam Jordan and worked out with Denver Broncos pass rusher Von Miller over the summer in Miami.
While he picked up things from both players, particularly the way Miller is able to lean around blockers when rushing the passer, he kept an even closer eye on Junior Galette, who was recently released by the Saints after recording 22 sacks over the past two seasons.
Edebali gravitated toward Galette’s style of play since the two are similar in stature and approach the position the same way.
“We’re in the 250s and try to play explosive,” Edebali said. “I really learned a lot from him and try to play similar to him because I think that’s my strength as well.”
It also doesn’t hurt that Edebali and Galette entered the league as undrafted free agents and had to claw their way up. However, Edebali might be ahead of Galette at this point. His former teammate only appeared in four games as a rookie and then recorded 4.5 sacks during his second season.
Edebali is hoping to exceed that, which would be a big benefit for New Orleans. The team is now leaning on Jordan to be the primary pass rusher and is hoping to get contributions from rookie linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha and Anthony Spencer.
While Edebali has a lot to prove before he can be counted on to make a meaningful contribution, the door is open for anyone who is capable of stepping into the void, whether it’s him or someone else.
Despite only having one season of limited experience, Edebali is hoping to be that guy.
The reason for Edebali’s confidence is he believes in his growth. Last year, as a rookie, he primarily acted off instinct and relied on his speed to win matchups. Now he feels like he has a solid plan on each snap, which should better help him get to quarterbacks.
“I feel like last year I was worried about that one person in front of me,” Edebali said. “Now you see schemes, you see the backfield set, and everything slows down a little bit because you understand what’s coming at you.”
Edebali is fully aware of what’s coming his way this season and he’s still confident. Maybe it’s time to stop looking at him as an intriguing prospect and instead as someone who can contribute this season.