Kasim Edebali is already facing enough pressure trying to make the Saints as an undrafted rookie this preseason, but he figures it’s no big deal to assume a little more for himself.
For Edebali won’t be content to simply latch onto one of the final regular-season roster spots in New Orleans, who faces Baltimore at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome at 7 p.m. on Thursday in its last of four 2014 exhibitions. He also wants to become a point of pride in his native Germany, which channels much of its fervor for athletes toward the men who have won the nation the second-most soccer World Cups (four), the most recent of which was in July.
“Hopefully, I keep the streak going for Germany,” Edebali said recently. “I got to keep it going.”
As far as NFL back stories go, Edebali’s is compelling. Born to an American military man and a German woman, he grew up in the Teutonic city of Hamburg with his mother, Nesrin. He developed a love for football watching NFL Europe, which had five teams in Germany and one in Hamburg; and in a 2011 interview he said the first time he thought he could play the sport was when he was 11 and watched Baltimore defeat the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV.
Coincidentally, the Giants’ offensive coordinator in that 2001 game was Saints coach Sean Payton.
Edebali joined a club and played flag football for five years. He moved on to tackle football and excelled enough to represent Germany as a tight end at the Under-19 European Championship in 2006.
In the process Edebali crossed paths with a man who assisted one of NFL Europe’s German teams and coached football at a prep school in New Hampshire. That coach suggested Edebali apply for a scholarship from the NFL-supported USA Football International Student Program to attend the school, and the young player did -- successfully.
“I didn’t even tell my mom, ‘Hey, is it OK if I go to the U.S.?’” Edebali said. “A month later, I just left Germany.”
The 6-foot-2, 253-pound Edebali spent two years at Kimball Union Academy and earned a scholarship to Boston College. Serving as a defensive end, he had 11 sacks (9.5 of which were when he was a senior co-captain and starter in 2013), four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.
Furthermore, he met his father, who flew him in for a visit after spotting him on television.
“I had no hard feelings,” Edebali said. “This is how life went. ... It was great meeting him and my whole American family -- my grandma, I have a half-sister and a half-brother. It was a special moment, another chapter in my life.”
Edebali’s experience in the 2014 draft was less happy. He was unpicked and signed with the Saints as a free agent.
He survived offseason workouts, a rookie minicamp and a full-team one. He reported to training camp in West Virginia and quietly completed its first phase; and he did the same with his first exhibition at St. Louis, a Saints win.
But then the Saints returned home for a 31-24 exhibition win against Tennessee. He authored a good moment on a third-quarter Saints punt, exploding out of his stance at the snap at Tennessee’s 38, outrunning the field and downing the ball at the 12.
Then, in on defense with 2:06 to go in the game, Edebali was initially halted as he tried to beat right tackle Will Poehls outside. But Edebali subsequently slapped Poehls’ arm out of the way, deftly stepped right and inside, and hauled Zach Mettenberger down for a loss of 2.
Edebali stood out again in a 23-17 win at Indianapolis on Saturday. On the Colts’ last drive, with under a minute remaining, he twice evaded blockers by speeding around the outside on the left of the Colts’ line. He chased quarterback Chandler Harnish down for a loss of 1 on the first occasion, foiling the Colts signal-caller’s attempt to roll right and get out of bounds to stop the clock.
He later helped defensive lineman Lawrence Virgil corral Harnish for a loss of 11 on a fourth-and-5 to seal the Saints’ victory. The NFL fully attributed the sack to Virgil -- had it given Edebali part of it, he’d be the only Saint to have more than two sacks this preseason.
Edebali heads into Thursday tied for the Saints’ lead in sacks with Pro Bowler Cameron Jordan. Unsurprisingly, Edebali’s name was nowhere on the list of cuts the Saints made to reduce their roster from 90 players to 75 in time for a Tuesday deadline.
“Edebali is a guy that has been productive and around the ball,” Payton said afterward.
Edebali credits his mild degree of success to a number of factors. Chief among them is guidance from two players.
One is Colts linebacker Bjorn Werner, a Berlin native and 2013 first-round draft choice who was on Germany’s national team with Edebali. The other is Saints teammate Junior Galette, whose 12 sacks last year were the sixth-most in the NFL.
Edebali said Werner texts him advice daily on approaching the routine of being a pro. Galette instructs him on the finer points of pass rushing under Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
In Galette’s estimation, Edebali is mastering the material as he jockeys to land on either New Orleans’ roster or practice squad.
“I look at the way he’s always running to the ball,” Galette said. “That’s somebody who’s showing what he can do and why he belongs.”
Hearing that gratifies Edebali, who’d like nothing more than to carve out a career in the manner German Americans such as Werner, Patriots tackle Sebastian Vollmer and Giants defensive tackle Markus Kuhn have been doing.
“It’s great for German football,” Edebali said of his and his countrymen’s presence in the NFL. “There’s a lot of talent over there.”