FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — No NFL player lives a tougher life down to down than a lineman.

With every snap comes a collision – a series of arm strikes, leg drives and coordinated crashes. It’s dirty, violent work. There’s a reason why they call it the trenches.

So perhaps it’s fitting that at the start of every New England Patriots practice, Julian Edelman can be found warming up next to his lineman teammates – jogging, stretching, readying for another simulation of the Sunday wars to come, regardless of whatever injury he’s endured. He doesn’t belong with his fellow receivers at the opposite end of the field.

Because Edelman, some Patriots believe, is the toughest among them.

“He’s the ultimate competitor,” Patriots wide receiver Phillip Dorsett said. “We all know what he’s going through. But he’s here. He’s going to come out, he’s going to give it all he’s got. He’s been doing that his whole career. There’s nothing stopping him.”

In a line of work where elite toughness is required to walk through the door, Edelman is revered in every corner of the Patriots locker room for his grit and resolve. All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore has seen it for three seasons, working across the line of scrimmage from Edelman most days in practice. Gilmore thought he knew what Edelman was made of during his Buffalo days, when the two used to compete as division rivals.

He admits now he had no idea.

“I don’t know how many times he’s taken hits and I’m like, ‘I don’t know if I’d get up from that,’” Gilmore said. “Because you’ve got to be a certain type of guy to take those hits across the middle and get up and be fired up and do it down after down. Nothing but respect for him.”

The only time Edelman failed to get up this season came Wednesday. The team chose to sit Edelman during practice so he could rest a new knee injury that’s ganged up on him with a lingering bad shoulder. Back in September, a severe rib injury could only knock Edelman out for a half.

Midway through the Patriots’ blowout of the Jets in Week 3, Edelman was crunched from behind by a pursuing defensive lineman after he’d caught a screen pass. Peeling himself off the turf, he immediately reached for his side. Then he got back into the huddle and fulfilled his assignments for the next play, crossing the formation presnap and holding a block throughout a long-developing play-action pass.

Later in the locker room, Edelman assured everyone in sight he would return for the team’s upcoming trip to Buffalo. He kept his promise.

“Julian’s definitely, arguably, one of the toughest or the toughest player on the team,” said Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower.

Three months later, Edelman’s toughness is leaving a deep impression on the newest Patriots. Like Gilmore, Mohamed Sanu said he could sense his fellow receiver’s fortitude from afar. But that feeling reached another level when the two shared a workplace.

“Y’all don’t understand how tough Jules is. That dude’s tough. He’s a tough son of a gun, and he goes out there every day whether something’s aching, something’s biting, whatever the case may be. He gives it all he’s got – even when they tell him not to,” Sanu said. “And that’s what I love about him.”

Not that any of Edelman’s aches or injuries have affected his production.

With three games to play, he stands fewer than 100 receiving yards away from setting a new career high. He already ranks third in the NFL in receptions. Edelman’s six touchdowns lead the team and have tied his single-season career high.

The Patriots’ passing attack would be lost in a sea of miscommunication without him. Tom Brady might have blown a fuse by now. Edelman has been the glue and the guts of the offense.

The only other player who could possibly stake a claim to those titles, reliable running back James White, happily defers to Edelman.

“To see what he deals with each and every week, and to go out there and be still running around, making plays – it’s amazing to see,” White said.

Amazing and inspiring, according to Gilmore.

“It’s a physical game, and a lot of people put their bodies on the line. But any time you see a guy like him, you can’t complain about yourself,” Gilmore said.

Considering his age and injuries, Edelman, 33, would likely be proudest of this stat: among non-quarterbacks, he’s played the third-most offensive snaps of any Patriot this season. He’s been available and accountable to his teammates, regardless of the circumstances; an established NFL veteran operating still with the mindset of the seventh-round rookie he once was.

Oh, and those two players ahead of him?

Both linemen.

The only company he could possibly keep.

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