It was the night before the NFC championship game in 2015, and Julius Peppers had something to say.
The Green Bay Packers’ defensive end told coaches to leave the final team meeting so that he could address his teammates. Micah Hyde was a second-year safety on that team and watched in stunned silence as the future Hall of Famer delivered the final message before his team faced the Seattle Seahawks the next day.
“When he spoke up, it was one of those things where everyone was listening, everyone was paying attention,” Hyde said Wednesday. “He cancelled the team meeting himself, told the coaches ‘Get out. I’m talking.’ That’s something you really remember.”
Hyde reflected on that moment this week as he discussed middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds. The Bills’ 21-year-old middle linebacker took the unusual step of addressing the entire team during the final meeting Saturday night before last week’s game against Miami. Normally, that setting is reserved for any final instructions or words of inspiration from the coaching staff. Edmunds, though, felt compelled to address his team. After the win over the Dolphins, several of his teammates pointed to the second-year linebacker speaking from the heart as providing a special kind of motivation.
“A lot of guys in this locker room are going to remember Tremaine doing that,” Hyde said. “It really motivated this football team to be better.”
There is a certain art that comes with delivering a pregame speech, be it in the locker room before kickoff, or in this case, the night before at the team hotel. Making them memorable, and thus inspirational, requires just the right mix of knowing what to say and when to say it.
Ask any member of the Bills who’s been on the roster for more than this season, and they’ll tell you former defensive tackle Kyle Williams is the best they’ve ever seen at capturing that moment.
“What makes it a good speech or moment is the genuineness behind it,” defensive end Trent Murphy said. “Kyle was obviously the best at that – just being themselves and staying true to who they are.”
Murphy said Kedric Golston, a former teammate with Washington, was another player who always had the right things to say.
“It was great for him to be able to do something like that,” Murphy said of Edmunds. “It was the right thing to be said at the right time. At some point, you get tired of hearing people talk and you want to go play – put the words to actions. Him recognizing some of that stuff was big – especially when you have a guy that doesn't do it all the time. It makes it that much more important.”
“You start off with who it is,” added veteran safety Kurt Coleman. “That says a lot. Tremaine is not a guy who’s always talking, which makes when he does say something very impactful. I think what he had to say resonated well with everybody on this team. Any great leader, they're going to start with themselves, saying, ‘I need to do this or that to help us,’ then what we need to do. Everything he said resonated with this whole team. I thought it was perfect timing.”
For Coleman, it was former Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis and Saints quarterback Drew Brees.
“There are so many great leaders within a locker room,” Coleman said. “You don't have to always stand up in front of a team and say a speech. I think about Drew Brees. Drew was a great leader, but he never really stood in front of a whole team and give a speech. In his own way, what he did throughout the week, he led so many different ways. I don't want to say there is one particular way to lead. With Tremaine, what he did well was he acknowledged what he needed to do in order for us to win, and then he followed up what he said with how he played.”
Edmunds was a force of nature against the Dolphins, finishing with 12 tackles, a half sack, two quarterback hits and a pass defensed in a 37-20.
"I feel like a lot of my instincts are starting to definitely kick in a whole lot more. To be honest with you, I still feel like I can improve a whole lot,” Edmunds said. “That's the thing I'm most proud about. That's what keeps me going. I'm not even close to how I know I can play. That's why I get excited to come in to work every day, just to get better.”
After the game against Miami, though, all the talk centered on his talk to the team the night before.
“I was kind of surprised, just because I wanted to talk to the team,” Edmunds said. “Word kind of got around, but it is what it is. I'm glad the guys supported me. It just shows the type of character we've got in the room.”
Edmunds surely would have preferred any details of his speech stayed inside the walls of the hotel lobby. He was reluctant to offer many specifics when speaking after the game, which is true to his nature, both with the media and his teammates.
“When you have a guy like Tremaine who is careful with his words, it carries a lot more weight,” said veteran linebacker Lorenzo Alexander. “Obviously the way he works, the way he carries himself around this building, the respect that guys have for him, when a guy like that speaks and says something, it means something. You sit up and pay attention. I've also been around some guys where it's like, ‘Why is this dude speaking right now?’ Obviously, he's far from that. He's gained everybody's respect around here, which is why I think it was so impactful when he spoke.”
Alexander and Hyde weren’t totally surprised. They interact with Edmunds on a daily basis, be it in the meeting room in Alexander’s case or in relaying defensive signals in Hyde’s case. Some of Edmunds’ offensive teammates, though, got to see a side of the 21-year-old captain that they hadn’t before.
“Tremaine doesn't say much, but he plays hard,” wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie said. “He works hard each and every day. He doesn't say a lot, but for him to get up there and say, ‘Enough is enough. We need to do our job, we need to put up points. The defense needs to get three and outs. The defense needs takeaways.' He went down the line on all three phases – put up or shut up. When it's Tremaine that said it, it's like, 'Oh wow, if he's saying it, we've got to get our stuff together.' "
McKenzie, who started his pro career with this week’s opponent, the Denver Broncos, said former teammate Emmanuel Sanders was the best leader he’s been around, but in a much different way than Edmunds.
“Sanders, if we lost or something like that, he was on our (butt),” McKenzie said. “Even being here, Cole gets on my (butt) all the time. So does John Brown. I've been around a bunch of leaders, for Tremaine to do that, with him being so quiet, I already looked at him as a leader because he's our starting middle linebacker. He already had a lot of respect in this locker room, but leaving there, I think he gained even more from everyone – coaching staff and players included.”
When asking around the Bills’ locker room what makes a pregame speech especially memorable or inspirational, a common theme came up. It’s the players who aren’t heard from all the time who usually make the biggest impact. For veteran running back Frank Gore, it was Patrick Willis. For wide receiver John Brown, it was Tyrann Mathieu.
Brown was in his second year with the Arizona Cardinals when Mathieu spoke during a team meeting. Arizona was rolling that year, getting off to a 3-0 start, but then proceeded to lose two of three games.
“Things weren’t going the way it was planned,” Brown said. “Tyrann said, ‘Playoffs come around only once in a while, and we're not playing like a playoff team.’ That was something that stuck with us, because he was right.”
The Cardinals rebounded to win nine games in a row, finishing the season 13-3.
“The best I’ve ever been around is Patrick Willis,” Gore added. “He was a guy who really didn't talk, but when he did talk, it really meant something. It was the same with Tremaine, a guy who comes to work every day and works hard. He felt like that was the right time. I respected the type of player he is, the type of person he is, so I know he really meant where he came from.”
Brown said after Sunday’s win he was “shocked” to hear Edmunds talk in front of the entire team. Several other teammates described it as being “out of character,” although Edmunds disputed that this week.
“I wouldn’t agree it was out of character for me,” he said. “Even though I'm a laid-back guy, I don't have no problem speaking.”
Regardless, it’s a sign of how Edmunds has grown in his second season.
“When you're around Tremaine, you'd think he's been in the league now for five or six years,” safety Jordan Poyer said. “It's his second year, and he's taking a lot of leadership, a lot of accountability, and he's growing. So to see a guy like that come in here last year as a rookie and kind of take over this defense as a ‘MIKE’ linebacker, it's really inspiring to see.”
Defensive end Jerry Hughes missed his second straight practice Thursday. He’s dealing with a groin injury. Cornerback Siran Neal (concussion) and right tackle Ty Nsekhe (ankle) also did not practice.
Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips was a new addition to the injury report. He was limited with a toe injury after practicing fully Wednesday.