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Raiders 2nd-round pick Mario Edwards Jr. is out to justify the faith organization had in him

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Filed for print . . .

Day 1 of the Raiders rookie mini-camp brought with it the first opportunity for Mario Edwards Jr. to provide validation for the organization that didn’t listen to the critics.

“They believed in me and they gave me an opportunity and a chance,” Edwards said Friday following practice. “That’s all I needed was an opportunity to go out there and prove myself.”

The universal acclaim that greeted the selection of Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper in the first round was replaced by some raised eyebrows when the Raiders took Edwards in the second round.

Edwards had only eight sacks in three seasons after being a five-star recruit out of Denton, Texas. His weight ballooned to more than 300 pounds as a sophomore and independent pre-draft reports challenged his effort and desire.

Even Raiders coach Jack Del Rio told the NFL Network this week “we see a supremely talented guy that obviously had a case of senioritis.”

Edwards came out following his junior year, but the point was a fair one _ his play had not risen to the level of his ability.

In a sense, it was a departure from the Reggie McKenzie philosophy of bringing in premium picks who are already hard-wired in terms of being self-starters and serious about football.

The Raiders were changing the narrative on the first day of mini-camp, as both Del Rio and Edwards were not interested in anything that happened before Friday.

“To continue to bring up whatever negative things up you can dig up from the past is not what we’re about,” Del Rio said. “We’re about going forward from here . . . how we can mold him and shape him and develop him into the kind of player we’re looking for.”

With Edwards at 277 pounds at the time he was drafted, and with full access to an NFL training staff, both he and the Raiders are confident there will be no Pablo Sandoval soap opera about his weight.

“That’s pretty much the past,” Edwards said, who talked of the proverbial “chip on my shoulder,” referenced the “nay-sayers” and concluded “I just want to prove to myself I can be the best that I can be.”

Edwards got some straight talk from his father, former Cowboys and Bucs cornerback Mario Edwards Sr., before he arrived in Alameda.

“Not only the minicamp, but the whole situation is that this is longer a scholarship,” Edwards said his father told him. “You don’t have four years. This is your job. You don’t have school and there’s no excuse for not knowing the plays. Approach it as a job and an opportunity to be there.”

Del Rio said of Edwards “We think he’s a good young man and we’re excited to work with him” and it’s apparent that any player under the watch of defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. will not be taking any plays off.

“I like him a lot. He’s very vocal and wants to get the best out of his players,” Edwards said of Norton. “He’s yelling and screaming because he wants to push you and get every drop out of you that have. I like that type of coach.”

— Cooper made the practice’s biggest play by catching a deep sideline route for a score over seventh-round pick Dexter McDonald from quarterback Cody Fajardo, an undrafted rookie free agent from Nevada.

“No surprises. It went exactly as I thought it would go,” Cooper said. Cooper, who originally said he would wear No. 19, changed up to No. 89, worn by James Jones last season. Cooper was No. 9 at Alabama.

— Fajardo got most of the work at quarterback, as the only quarterback on the field was Garrett Safron of Sacramento State. Safron was one of 15 players in on a tryout basis. The Raiders as a matter of policy do not release the names of players trying out.

— Undrafted free agent Josh Harper of Fresno State was a college teammate of Derek Carr and his sister works in the Raiders organization selling luxury suites.

Harper said he has been picking Carr’s brain every night.

— The field closest to the facility was unavailable due to construction for upgrades at the facility.

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Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer