Prized free-agent Ray Edwards recovering from knee surgery

FLOWERY BRANCH — The Falcons’ highly touted free-agent signee Ray Edwards had minor knee surgery during the lockout and will not play in the exhibition season opener Friday.

“We are bringing him along slowly,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said Wednesday. “He participated in practice. We are not going to work him this week in the game. We will continue to have him work with his rehabilitation.”

The Falcons play the Miami Dolphins at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Georgia Dome.

Edwards has not participated in any contact drills since becoming eligible to practice Aug. 4.

“So far, he’s hasn’t done any hitting at all,” defensive-line coach Ray Hamilton said. “He’s working with us during the individual period. He’s looking pretty good. He looks lean, tough and athletic. The next step is to get him into some action.”

Edwards, formerly of the Minnesota Vikings, signed a five-year contract worth $30 million that included $11 million in guarantees with the Falcons on July 29.

“Whenever the trainers put me back out there,” Edwards said. “I’m on their schedule.”

He did not want to reveal when or how the injury happened.

“I really don’t talk about injuries,” Edwards said.

Edwards believes he has benefited from lining up with the defense during the walk-through practices.

“Yeah, I’m taking all of my reps and everything,” Edwards said. “I’m getting all of the mental reps that I can get. When I’m out here, I get the physical reps. So, everything is going good.”

Most teams like to play their starters in the third exhibition game. But starters may play more than normal in this exhibition season because of the missed time caused by the 132-day lockout.

Edwards said he didn’t know if the Falcons were targeting the third game, an away game against Pittsburgh on Aug. 27, for his return.

The Falcons hope that Edwards, when recovered, will boost their pass rush at left end, opposite Pro Bowler John Abraham.

Abraham led the Falcons with 13 sacks and 17 quarterback hurries last season. Kroy Biermann started at left end and had three sacks and seven quarterback hurries last season.

Edwards, 6-foot-5, 268 pounds, was a fourth-round draft pick (127th overall) by the Vikings in 2006. The former Purdue standout amassed 29 sacks in five seasons. He had eight sacks last season and a career-high 8.5 in 2009.

The Falcons went after Edwards in free agency after they bailed out of a bidding war with Carolina for Charles Johnson, who received a lucrative six-year, $76-million deal.

After signing with the Falcons, Edwards has described himself as “hopefully, the missing piece” to the team’s defense.

The longer it takes for Edwards to recover in this compressed training camp, the better chance his absence could stunt the growth of the defense.

The Falcons will count on Edwards to help alleviate some double-teams from Abraham and open some pass-rush lanes for the defensive tackles.

With no minicamp and organized team activities, the Falcons still hope to come together quickly on defense because their first five regular-season games — at Chicago, Philadelphia, at Tampa Bay, at Seattle and Green Bay — are treacherous.

Chicago won the NFC North. Philadelphia won the NFC East. Tampa Bay is on the rise after a 10-win season. Seattle won the NFC West and Green Bay won the Super Bowl after making the playoffs as a wild-card team.

A slow start by the defense could have the defending NFC South champs digging out of an early-season hole.