“Auf geht’s Deutschland, kampfen und siegen !!!” That’s a phrase in the German language that I heard probably thousands of times when I was a young American soldier (U.S. Air Force) stationed over in what was still referred to then as “West Germany” (before German reunification in 1990) during the late 1980’s. Translated into English, it literally means: “Let’s go, Germany — fight and win!!!” It’s a phrase that as a native of the German city of Hamburg growing up as a boy, Saints UDFA rookie LB Kasim Edebali heard constantly.
The phrase applies specifically as one of the main slogans for the German men’s national soccer team, which just recently won the much ballyhooed event of the World Cup tournament in Brazil earlier this month. It likely was on Edebali’s mind as he followed and cheered them on to victory, as both a fan and a proud German citizen.
— Kasim Edebali (@TheDreamKasim) July 13, 2014
However, futbol — as it’s referred to in Germany — wasn’t Kasim Edebali’s passion growing up. It was football, the American version, that the outstanding OLB / DE “hybrid” out of Boston College excelled at once he came over to the United States. It’s that very same talent that just may propel Edebali onto the Saints’ final roster, when the final cutdown to 53 comes in the first week of September.
As Training Camp practice opens this morning at the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia, the question will be: can Edebali make the Saints’ final roster? Edebali is expected to challenge for one of the available positions at OLB — either as a starter on the side opposite of emerging superstar Junior Galette (a spot precariously held at the moment by a returning Victor Butler from a serious injury), or perhaps even on Galette’s side as his back-up.
Edebali has an amazing ability to anticipate or “guess” when the center will snap the ball. It personally reminds me a lot of former Saints All-Pro OLB Pat Swilling from the legendary “Dome Patrol” of the late ‘80’s and early ‘90’s; in that he gets a huge jump on the offensive lineman exactly at the moment that the ball is snapped – which leads to a lot of confusion and disruption in an opponent’s backfield, resulting in a negative play. It’s that distinctive trait in Edebali’s game that perhaps led Saints officials to formally sign him as a UDFA after the Draft’s conclusion back in May.
Certainly he’d be able to fill the role of a designated “edge” pass rusher and possibly even take Butler’s spot with a dynamic next 6 weeks; and at the worst become a solid back-up initially for Galette. He’ll need those special qualities that he brings to the table if he is to win playing time and a final 53-man roster spot at the OLB position against other current candidates such as the incumbent Butler (before he was hurt); 5th round selection Ronald Powell out of Florida (whom the Saints are very high on, potential-wise) and fellow UDFA signee Chidera Uzo-Diribe (another fellow OLB / DE “hybrid” and UDFA) out of Colorado.
Falling in Love with “American Football”
For kids growing up in Germany, futbol ( a.k.a. soccer), is a way of life. As I said up above, I was stationed there as a young soldier and I can assure you, they’re as PASSIONATE about the sport of soccer as Americans are about the NFL (or as the Who Dat Nation is about the Saints). That wasn’t the case for Kasim Edebali, who instead fell in love with America’s version of football after seeing the Giants (with then-offensive coordinator Sean Payton calling the plays) and Ravens battle it out in Super Bowl XXXV in 2001.
Since they don’t have high school sports in the classical sense of the American system in German schools, Edebali decided to join the Hamburg Huskies (the German equivalent of youth football in the U.S.) as a 10-year old kid. By age 16 (in 2006), he was playing as a tight end on the German National Team that wound up playing in the 2006 European American Football Championships . It was then when he ended up meeting up with the young man who would become his best friend, current Indianapolis Colts defensive end and former Florida State All-American DE Bjoern Werner.
Edebali and Woerner both caught the eye of Kimball Union Academy coach John Lyons, who was an assistant with the Cologne Centurions of NFL Europe at the time; and through the USA Football International Student Enrollment Program he and Woerner were granted the opportunity to play football at Kimball Union (a private high school in New England), where they spent two years honing their games.
“Coming to America” and Chasing the Dream
Once they arrived in the U.S., both Edebali and Werner assimilated themselves to the surrounding Boston and New England area and its culture (even becoming fans of the New England Patriots). Edebali would thrive at Kimball Union, earning All-New England Region honors as both a tight end and a defensive end. He helped Kimball win the New England Private School Regional Championship in 2007. While he was there, Lyons suggested to Edebali that he give some thought about attending the New England Regional high school football camp at Boston College.
With raw athletic talent, Edebali stood out enough as a defensive end to get looks from several Division 1 colleges. It was when Lyons pointed out to him the second-ranked Boston College squad led by quarterback Matt Ryan, that Edebali realized that it would be with the Eagles — that his dream of playing in the NFL someday gave him the best opportunity. Boston College actually had taken notice of him as well and quickly offered a full scholarship, no doubt likely after their recruiters ended up drooling over both his measurables and athletic ability at the camp. After he arrived on the BC campus, Edebali made the most of his opportunity.
In his entire 4-year career at Boston College, Edebali appeared in a total of 49 games and tallied 166 tackles (88 solo), 11 sacks, 24 and a half tackles for loss, 4 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries, and 15 passes defended or batted away. He compiled a majority of those statistics in one single year, which was his memorable “breakout” senior season at Boston College in 2013. Last year he recorded 67 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 15 tackles for loss and 3 forced fumbles, on his way to 2nd Team All-ACC honors.
A Shot at Making it in the NFL as a Saint
Somewhat surprisingly, Edebali went undrafted after being projected to go anywhere from the top of the 5th to the back end of the 7th round. Though he faced criticism from scouts for lacking the ideal size and speed, my fellow Who Dat Dish writer and colleague Simon Daugulis noted in his article on Edebali following the Draft that Edebali is a “a pure gamer. New Orleans signed plenty of pass rushers after the draft, but none have the motor and drive of Edebali.”
I completely agree with Simon’s assessment of Edebali’s passion and desire for the sport; and as you’ve seen about Edebali from up above, he is absolutely DRIVEN to succeed at securing his nearly life-long dream of making it into the NFL. . His desire to become an American football player (and a good one at that) has directed his path in life to the point that it has taken him to an entirely different culture, in an entirely different country — and making many sacrifices along the way.
Edebali impressed observers with his performance in Mini-Camp last month, and I personally believe he can make enough of an impact in camp and during the pre-season games to force Rob Ryan and Saints management with a tough decision as to who to keep on the final 53-man roster. I’ll just say this in closing; which is that with regard to the question of can OLB Kasim Edebali make the final roster, my advice would be: don’t bet against it……….