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Countdown to kickoff: 97 is Mario Edwards Jr, it’s also a Raiders record

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NFL: Oakland Raiders-OTA Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

We keep chugging along in our countdown. Now we’re at 97 days until the season opener. Wearing the number 97 for the past three seasons is former second round pick Mario Edwards Jr.

Edwards heads into the final year of his rookie deal looking to finally show he is worthy of a second contract. He earned a starting job midway through his rookie season, taking over for the injured Justin Tuck who was in the last throes of his NFL career. In those few games, he gave Raiders fans a level of hope he has not lived up to in the two seasons that followed.

A neck injury ended his rookie season a few games early. Then a hip injury landed him on injured reserve the following season, causing him to miss an entire calendar year of games before returning for the final couple of games.

Last season was the first in which Mario Edwards Jr was a healthy starter from the first game. And he came out like gangbusters, putting up 3.0 sacks in the first four games. Then his production fell off, leading to just a half sack the remainder of the season, and once again seeing his season end early with an injury.

He is back as the expected starting interior pass rusher this season, but this time has some serious competition. The team made interior pass rush a priority in the draft, selecting PJ Hall in the second round and Maurice Hurst in the 5th round. They can’t keep pinning all their hopes on Edwards.

That being said, if he can finally show up in a contract year, he will generate some interest in free agency. Though it may not be much more than a prove it deal to see if he could string a couple healthy seasons together.

What 97 means to Raiders

The longest punt return in Raiders history was a 97-yarder by Greg Pruitt. It came in week five of the 1983 season against Washington.

What’s really amazing here is that punt return wasn’t the only Raiders all-time record that was set in that one game. The longest ever reception in Raiders history occurred in that game as well. It was a 99-yarder from Jim Plunkett to Cliff Branch which was a stat noted two days ago at 99 in our countdown. And somehow the Raiders LOST that game 37-35. Then the Raiders met Washington again in the Super Bowl after that season and destroyed them 38-9.