Kasim Edebali, a former gymnast and wrestler, is the Broncos’ unorthodox answer to their OLB questio
Kasim Edebali/Getty Images
Everything about Kasim Edebali — from his personality to his back story to his pass rushing stance — is unorthodox. The Broncos outside linebacker can’t stop smiling on a hot June afternoon when just about everyone else would rather be home.
Football wasn’t a lifelong dream for Edebali. It just sort of happened. Edebali grew up in Germany as a gymnast and martial arts enthusiast. In the offseason, his workouts consist of both. He believes it’s what got him here.
“It was a lot of things where you needed a lot of body control before I got into football,” said Edebali, 27. “That translated a little bit into the way I play football — quick twitch, a little unorthodox.”
Now the Broncos will ask Edebali to be their top pass rusher off the bench until Shaquil Barrett returns from his injury and is in playing shape. Edebali knows it’s a huge role for a relatively unknown player, but he just smiles.
“That’s how my life’s been. I’ve always been the next guy to step up,” said Edebali, who signed a one-year, $1.2 million contract in March.
Earlier this offseason, Edebali got a potential taste of life after football. He went to a WWE tryout as a spectator but soon he made his way into the ring, supported by The Rock’s entrance music.
“That was super random,” Edebali said, a little surprised anybody even knew about it. “They asked me if I wanted to work out and I was like, ‘Yeah, I always wanted to do a little of this.’ ”
For Edebali, hands and timing are the most important traits of an NFL pass rusher. And that’s where his wrestling background pays off.
Barrett was expected to be the third in a trio of active, attacking, rotating pass rushers with Von Miller and Shane Ray. After suffering an off-campus hip injury working out, Barrett will be out at least “a few months.” There is no guarantee he will be ready for Denver’s season opener Sept. 11 against the Chargers.
Denver has no plans to sign an immediate replacement — a sign of faith in Edebali and a host of undrafted outside linebackers behind him.
“He’s a relentless rusher on the pass down,” Broncos coach Joseph said. “Then he’s a big body when he’s on the edge and in the run game.”
Before joining Denver, Edebali notched eight sacks in three seasons (two starts) for New Orleans.
He could have his biggest role yet this season.
The Broncos’ top three returning outside linebackers — Miller (81.2), Ray (58) and Barrett (36.6) — all played a higher percentage of snaps in 2016 than Edebali has played in any season (33.9 was his top, in 2015).
Vontarrius Dora, a 2016 college free agent who spent most of last year on the Broncos’ practice squad, and undrafted rookies Ken Ekanem and Deon Hollins are the other outside linebackers on the roster.
So the pressure falls on Edebali, the only healthy reserve outside linebacker who has played in an NFL regular-season game.
The hope is that the Broncos’ attacking scheme will help Edebali have his best season. He was miscast as an undersized 4-3 defensive end his last two years in New Orleans, but he can use that experience to be a pass rushing and run stopping 3-4 outside linebacker.
“I remember watching film and saying I would love to be in that defense to get after it,” Edebali said. “They let you loose and be yourself.”
Edebali will get every opportunity to be his best this summer. The Broncos need it.