Commentary

Ravens' Reed ultimate 'center fielder'

What makes Ed Reed such a great safety? Well, maybe his awful skills as a high school QB and his latent desire to play baseball help him excel as the NFL's best 'center fielder.'

Originally Published: January 8, 2009
By James Walker | ESPN.com

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Here is something you didn't know about Ed Reed: He'd like to give baseball a try.

And he's serious about it.

"I'm a professional player right now," the Baltimore Ravens Pro Bowl safety said. "I feel like -- not that I'll be better than [Michael Jordan] -- but with a little practice, I definitely could be effective in the outfield, stealing some bases and pinch-hitting."

Here is another little-known tidbit: Reed was an awful quarterback at Destrehan High School in Louisiana.

"I threw more interceptions than I caught … I had like four interceptions in one game," he said with a deadpan expression.

Want to know more? Reed's favorite NFL player is Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu.

"We play the same position," Reed said. "I know Troy personally, we've talked about it, and I know he's working hard to do what he does on Sunday."

This is a peek behind the curtain of one of the NFL's most low-key superstars, a game changer who will lead the Ravens into an AFC divisional playoff game Saturday against the Tennessee Titans. In just seven NFL seasons, Reed already has 43 career interceptions in regular-season play and an additonal five thefts in playoff games.

Reed is among several stars remaining in this postseason -- including Polamalu, the Arizona Cardinals' Kurt Warner and the Philadelphia Eagles' Donovan McNabb -- who seemingly have Hall of Fame credentials.

But enshrinement in Canton might be the last thing on Reed's mind, if he even thinks about it at all.

Away from the field, Reed is thoughtful and intelligent -- he graduated from the University of Miami with a liberal arts degree in three years -- but he also is a very private person. He's what those in the NFL community call a "football player." It describes one who enjoys winning and the competition of the game but not necessarily the publicity that comes with it.

Reed is a throwback to a time when game day was the only day that mattered in the NFL. He is not a fan of the incessant sideshow, hype and smack talk that goes on in between games today. Reed's approach would make many old-timers proud.

On Saturday in Nashville, Tenn., Reed will be an important player to watch when the sixth-seeded Ravens (12-5) play the top-seeded Titans (13-3) for the right to advance to the AFC Championship Game. Until then, ESPN.com will help you get a better understanding of the five-time Pro Bowler and this season's interception leader.

Who is Ed Reed?

No one covers the gridiron like Reed. Off the field, no one gets Reed to uncover himself.

He doesn't enjoy lengthy media interviews. His stall is in the back corner of the Ravens' locker room, closest to the shower, training room and the exit door so he can efficiently get in and out of meetings. Everything has a purpose when it comes to the extent and seriousness of Reed's preparation.

When first-year coach John Harbaugh was asked this week whether he had any funny Reed stories, his response was brief.

"No," he said bluntly.

Reed's teammates cannot relate funny Reed tales, either. But a tour through the Ravens' locker room drew various descriptions of Reed as "quiet," "humble," "soulful," "laid back" and "a great guy."

"He is real low key; that's definitely him," Baltimore safety Jim Leonhard said. "He's one of those guys that you don't necessarily see a lot [publicly] or know what's going on all the time about him."

Scott Martin coached Reed for two and a half years at Destrehan. Martin said Reed -- who spent his high school years splitting time between his family's home near a violent section of New Orleans and a family friend's home in a more peaceful neighborhood -- was always quiet in nature. Martin added that Reed also has a lot of character and depth to him and is passionate about things beyond football, such as helping underprivileged children.

"He is a very private person," Martin said. "He's unlike a lot of NFL stars. He's very gracious, and when I've talked to him and asked about the future of his career, he's got a good handle on it.

"Ed's not going to be a man that plays for 20 years just because he's got nothing else to do. He has a good grasp on life and where he wants his future to go."

The playmaker

The Reed everyone knows is the person we see on game day. He is arguably the league's most dominant defensive player with the potential to change games.

Former NFL quarterback (and current ESPN analyst) Trent Dilfer vividly recalls throwing an astonishing interception to Reed. In a 2007 game between the Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers, Dilfer spotted Reed playing the deep third of the field before the snap. He threw a hook route on the outside hash.

The throw was too high for both the receiver and the cornerback, but Reed gambled by leaving his area so early he was in the right place to pick off the errant pass. Dilfer said he couldn't believe Reed flashed in that area and never saw a safety make that type of play in his 13 years in the league.

"He is the only guy I've ever seen that has the ability to be completely out of position at all the right times and never be out of position in the wrong times," Dilfer said.
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Some credit goes to Reed's film study. Every player watches game tape, but few can break it down like Reed. While others watch for execution, Reed is looking for tendencies as well.

Where are the quarterback's presnap reads? Who is his favorite target on third down? Does the signal-caller have any quirks to give away play-action fakes?

One teammate estimated Reed watches about 25 hours of game tape per week outside of his normal film study and practice with the team.

"It's to the point where he knows more than the coaches at times," Ravens defensive back Evan Oglesby said.

The combination of smarts, lengthy preparation and rare athletic ability produces results on the football field. Reed has reached the end zone four times this season -- three interception returns and one fumble recovery -- and Baltimore is 4-0 in those games. Including the postseason, Reed has 11 interceptions on the year.

Reed often makes his interceptions in full stride -- and that leads to big returns. He has an amazing 1,144 career return yards. Because the NFL considers regular-season records separate from postseason marks, his career return totals do not include his 64-yard touchdown on one of his two interceptions in the Ravens' 27-9 wild-card victory over the Miami Dolphins this past Sunday.

"You can flat out tell that he goes out every Sunday and knows exactly where the reads are going," former Dallas Cowboys safety and current ESPN analyst Darren Woodson said. "I know he played quarterback at some point in his life, because he knows how to read offenses from the middle of the field."

Greatest safety ever?

Is Reed the greatest safety in NFL history? Let's open the discussion.

First, consider the big picture. Reed is a ball-hawking safety with unique coverage skills and responsibilities. He often plays the deep third or deep half of the field, while other all-time greats such as Ronnie Lott physically dominated closer to the line of scrimmage. It's difficult to compare, for instance, Lott's ferocious hitting with Reed's ability to intercept passes from that position.

"Every safety has something different that he brings to the table," said Reed, who refuses to partake in the debate.

Statistically, the all-time interception leader is longtime Washington Redskins and Minnesota Vikings safety Paul Krause with 81. He played 16 years. Reed's 43 career interceptions put him at an average of 6.14 per season, compared to Krause's 5.06 per season.

At Reed's current pace, he would need a little more than six seasons to surpass Krause's all-time mark. It's certainly possible if Reed, 30, desires to play well into his 30s.

Regardless of Reed's future plans, his journey likely will include a trip to the Hall of Fame. Who knows, with a little work, maybe he can make a few basket catches in the major leagues similar to one of his interceptions against the Dolphins this past weekend.

"I'd like to give baseball a try, coaching and doing some things in the neighborhoods, helping kids out across the world," Reed said. "It's really no limit. So hopefully in the future sometime I'll be doing that."

AFC North blogger James Walker covers the NFL for ESPN.com.

James Walker | email

ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter