Bob Wojnowski, John Niyo, and Justin Rogers look ahead to this weekend's game with the Bears and the Lions' playoff chances. Detroit News
Allen Park — It seems like every week in the NFL there’s a new face in the locker room — a veteran to ease an injury situation, a practice squad swap to help a team better prepare for an upcoming opponent or a waiver claim, a player who offers an unexpected upgrade to the depth chart.
The bottom of the roster churn is a cruel business. One week you’re employed, the next week you’re not. Defensive end George Johnson was re-signed by the Lions on Tuesday and cut 24 hours later to make room for Kasim Edebali, proving for many players, tomorrow isn’t promised.
On the surface, Edebali is just another face in the crowd. He doesn’t even have a nameplate over his locker. Like so many others, particularly along the defensive line for the Lions this year, he’s looking to make a positive impression in a hurry and earn a role.
The road traveled by these mid-season additions is typically familiar, but Edebali’s path to Detroit, and to the NFL, is a bit more unique.
You wouldn’t know it talking to him — his English is flawless — but he was born and raised in Germany. His mother is German, his father an American military man briefly stationed in the country. Raised by his mother, Edebali didn’t even meet his dad until he was 21 years old.
But even though sport isn’t popular in Germany, Edebali found football on the TV and quickly fell in love with the game. At 9 years old, he began dreaming of playing in the NFL.
He began playing in Germany youth leagues, first a few years of flag football, then tackle. He was a tight end for the Hamburg Huskies, before making the leap to the United States.
Edebali made the move on his own at 18 years old to pursue the dream. He played two more years of high school football in New Hampshire. That provided him valuable time to refine his understanding of the English language.
“It was pretty rough,” Edebali said about learning the language. “Learned the grammar in fifth or six grade. Conversational English, it’s more difficult. But it’s my 10th year in the States; I’m just trying to blend in.”
That led to Boston College. After redshirting a year, Edebali played four seasons and was a starter the final three. Lions offensive tackle Brian Mihalik, a converted defensive lineman, was Edebali’s backup his final two seasons.
Edebali went undrafted, but was signed by the New Orleans Saints. After making a strong impression on special teams, he earned a roster spot.
He had achieved his dream.
He played three years in New Orleans and was one of the team’s top special teams players. He also had an impact as a situational pass-rusher, tallying eight sacks over three seasons, including five in 2015. This past offseason he signed a one-year, $1.2 million contract with the Broncos.
“We’ve seen him work, and he’s got pass rush ability,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “He can get up the field and he’s got an assortment of moves. He’s played inside and outside in terms of rush, and nickel packages and things of that nature. So, I think he’ll be able to at least give us some help in both those areas.”
Despite a continued impact on special teams, he didn’t fit as well in the team’s defense. He’s hoping to turn that trend around here in Detroit.
“I personally prefer to just be a hand-in-the-dirt defensive end,” he said. “Detroit has a reputation for that — put your hand in the dirt, get off the ball and just play mean, aggressive football. I love that.”
Who knows how long Edebali will last in Detroit’s locker room. As it currently stands, with Ziggy Ansah ailing, he’ll likely be needed this week against the Chicago Bears. Then again, the team could promote a familiar face, Alex Barrett, off the practice squad to fill that role.
Tomorrow isn’t promised to Edebali, but he’s ready to take advantage of his latest opportunity.
“It’s just attention to detail and effort,” he said. “I pride myself on that. Whatever your coach asks you to do, you have to do it as detailed as you can and as hard as you can.”