ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) Oakland Raiders defensive lineman Mario Edwards Jr. returned as a full participant in practice Tuesday for the first time since his promising rookie season was cut short by a neck injury.
''It feels great to be back with the team out there,'' Edwards said after the first practice at Oakland's three-day mandatory minicamp. ''Working hard with the guys and ready for the next day.''
Edwards hurt his neck on Dec. 20 against Green Bay and didn't play the final two games of the season. The Raiders had given little information about Edwards' injury beyond coach Jack Del Rio describing it as ''significant'' shortly after it happened and general manager Reggie McKenzie saying during Super Bowl week that it could a genetic issue.
Edwards would only call it a sprained neck and said he was never concerned that he wouldn't be able to play again. Edwards said he expects to be able to take part in full-contact drills when training camp starts in July.
Before Tuesday, Edwards had participated in some limited drills in the offseason program but was not part of any 11-on-11 action as he continued rehabilitating the injury.
''He's worked hard to get back to where he is and getting the favor of the doctors and stuff,'' linebacker Malcolm Smith said. ''It was good to see him and he'll have a great year, I expect.''
Edwards, a second-round pick out of Florida State last year, made 10 starts as a rookie and was emerging as a key player on Oakland's improving defense late last season before getting hurt. Edwards had 2 1/2 sacks, provided pressure on the quarterback and was stout against the run.
''He's a really talented player,'' Del Rio said. ''He has a lot of passion. He's super athletic. For such a big man, big powerful guy, he's very athletic. The sky's the limit. I know he's excited to be back.''
Edwards will now be part of an even more talented defense after Oakland upgraded the secondary with the additions of cornerback Sean Smith and safeties Reggie Nelson and Karl Joseph and added linebacker Bruce Irvin to team with star pass rusher Khalil Mack.
Edwards will be a key part of that defense with his ability to rush the passer from the outside, as well as play on the inside when needed.
''With the new players that we got from the draft, from the new players that we got from other teams, this is going to be a great defensive line,'' he said. ''I'm just trying to go in and contribute as much as I can.''
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