Reed plays blanket coverage

Seeking to improve, free safety becomes teammates' teacher

August 08, 2007|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN REPORTER

In five seasons, Ravens free safety Ed Reed has been named to three Pro Bowls, won the Associated Press' Defensive Player of the Year award in 2004 and earned a contract that makes him the NFL's highest-paid player at his position.

And yet Reed, who will turn 29 on Sept. 11, said he still feels like a first-year player.

"It still seems like it was yesterday for me," he said recently. "When we come back to training camp, I always feel like a rookie. Because it's not new things going in, but just taking that whole mentality for everything to be fresh for me, [so] I can continue to get better the way I want to."

Considering what Reed has accomplished since the Ravens selected the former University of Miami safety with the 24th overall pick in the 2002 draft, getting better seems almost impossible.

His 27 career interceptions and 750 interception return yards make him the franchise leader in both categories.

Reed, who signed a six-year, $40 million contract extension in 2006, has averaged 74.6 tackles, and that includes an injury-shortened 2005 season when he played only 10 games, making 40 tackles.

That, and his knowledge of the game, is why young safeties such as Dawan Landry, Jamaine Winborne and Bobby Blackshire seek out Reed for counsel.

"He's a tremendous leader and he's a student of the game and he's communicating with those guys back there," linebacker Bart Scott said. "I think the guys like Landry and the young guys and safeties that are out there who aspire to be like Ed Reed one day [are] really learning from his communication and his knowledge of football."

Winborne said there were many times during practices last season when he would have trouble with an "inside stack" formation, a favorite of offenses in the red zone.

He would jump an inside route run by a wide receiver, but that allowed another receiver, who was lined up on the same side of the field, to run a post route in the area that Winborne just vacated.

"We sat down at his house and watched the film," Winborne said. "He just kind of talked to me and from there, it just kind of stuck there. Now you can't get me with the inside stack.

"He's been an inspiration for me. The advice he gives me is the same thing that he would do, and sometimes that's good. But sometimes it's not so good because you can't do everything exactly the way that Ed Reed does them. ... I've learned a lot from him."

Reed had 66 tackles, five interceptions, returning one for a touchdown, and a forced fumble last season as he went to Pro Bowl for the third time.

But he was criticized at times for taking too many risks by straying from his assignments.

In a loss to the Carolina Panthers last season, wide receiver Steve Smith caught a 72-yard touchdown pass because Reed wasn't playing deep enough.

Reed has acknowledged that the secondary must improve its communication to avoid similar breakdowns.

"We have a lot of things we can get better on, and communication is definitely one that you have to stay up on because those are the little small things that we messed up on last year - [when] we gave up touchdowns that we shouldn't have given up," he said. "It's small things that we've been working on to help ourselves."

But he also vowed to preserve the style of play that has earned him a reputation as a ballhawk.

"I play with instincts," he said. "I'm never going to change my game or how I play. But at the same time, I play within the defense and choose when and when not to go and make a play."

Reed demonstrated that when he tied a franchise postseason record with two interceptions in the season-ending loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

"The hard thing with Ed is he's been so good for so long, you think he's 35 and he's been here forever because he was good from jump street," coach Brian Billick said. "You don't realize just how young he really is. So, I'm sure he'll tell you there's still some upside, but it's kind of scary if he ever taps into it because he's pretty good right now."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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