For Reed, virtue of patience has been his biggest reward

January 09, 2007|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN REPORTER

The verse, from the Book of Philippians, is written on a scrap of paper and taped to the dressing stall of Ed Reed's locker. It has been a gentle reminder for the Ravens free safety every day that he has gone to work at the team's practice facility in Owings Mills the past five seasons.

To Reed, who recently was named a starter for his third Pro Bowl and yesterday selected All-Pro for the second time, it teaches about the value of patience, a necessary quality to possess in the position he plays for the Ravens. It also is certainly not anything new in the way Reed goes about his life.

Patience was necessary when Reed was a slightly oversized 13-year-old living outside New Orleans and unable to play on a local youth football team because he was a few pounds over the weight limit. He simply waited until the rest of the kids caught up the next year.

It was also important for Reed the day he was drafted by the Ravens. A first-team All-American who as a senior helped lead the University of Miami to a national championship, Reed saw three other defensive backs chosen before the Ravens made him the 24th overall pick.

Reed's resolve has been tried the past two seasons in Baltimore. After being named All-Pro in his second season in 2003, and NFL Defensive Player of the Year in his third, Reed saw his numbers - and perhaps his reputation - nose dive last year.

Reed, who missed six games with a severe ankle sprain last season, made only one interception and had just two in the first eight games this season. Some wondered if Reed had fully recovered from the injury, or whether, like other players, he had lost some of his hunger after signing a big contract last summer. The little piece of paper attached to his locker often helped get Reed through some tough days.

"I have to be reminded by it always, but it's something that over time really built up just going through life situations," Reed, 28, said. "Relating to football, especially playing safety. I got a lot of rag last year, kind of this year, too, because you weren't seeing those plays."

Reed heard the whispers around the league, if not around the locker room, that he was no longer in the conversation about being the league's top safety. Many looked at Pittsburgh's Troy Polamalu, others at Philadelphia's Brian Dawkins or Denver's John Lynch.

"Where is Ed Reed? That sort of thing," Reed said of the razzing. "Football is that up-and-down type of game. It's not going to always come your way, but when it does, you've got to make the best of your opportunities."

As the Ravens prepare for their first playoff game in three seasons, there are signs that Reed is getting back to the level he played at two seasons ago.

Special season

That season Reed set a franchise record with nine interceptions, and broke NFL records for overall return yardage after interceptions with 358 as well as a single interception return, the 106-yarder he had against the Cleveland Browns. He also blocked a punt in each of his first two seasons.

Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said it was just a matter of time for that Reed to re-emerge.

"Like I told him, everything comes in bunches, and that's what's happening for him right now," Lewis said of Reed, who has three interceptions in the past four games to give him five for the season. "He's a ball hawk. Sooner or later once he starts getting his hands on it, it's going to find him, anyway."

It found Reed twice in the Ravens' 20-10 road win over the Kansas City Chiefs on Dec. 10, and once more in a 31-7 win at Pittsburgh two weeks later which he returned 37 yards to set up the Ravens' final touchdown. Reed also recovered a fumble at the Steelers' 3 earlier in the game, returning it 32 yards.

While his numbers don't approach 2004, and aren't even as good as 2003, when he had seven picks and returned one for a touchdown, Reed is clearly among the reasons why the Ravens lead the NFL in interceptions with 28 and are second only to the Chicago Bears in forcing turnovers with 40.

"If you're going to start with a team, and you're going to take one safety, you're going to take Ed Reed, it's not even close," Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "He's a big hitter; he makes great breaks on the football; he's a blitzer; he supports the run."

Former Baltimore Colts safety Bruce Laird, who was an All-Pro as a rookie in 1972 and regularly attends Ravens games in his job with an NFL licensing company, has seen Reed evolve from a player who got by solely on instincts and athletic ability to one who has become more technically sound.

"He lines up where he's supposed to. I believe he knows exactly where he is on the field at all times," Laird said while watching Reed play the regular-season finale against the Buffalo Bills on Dec. 31. "Does he take chances? Absolutely, all the great ones do. Some are flat-out WAGs."

WAGs?

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