Ed Reed returns to practice

OWINGS MILLS – Ed Reed has been contributing to the Baltimore Ravens by cheering, cajoling and coaching his teammates from an unaccustomed vantage point: the sidelines. Now, the star free safety is on the verge of reprising his old role as a game-changing centerfielder for the Ravens' aggressive defense.

The former NFL Defensive Player of the Year returned to practice for the first time since undergoing offseason hip surgery. Although Reed remains on the physically unable to perform list, he's eligible to be activated to play anytime over the next three weeks.

He's widely expected to return to play as soon as Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills at M&T Bank Stadium.

"I feel pretty good right now," Reed said with a laugh. "It was definitely fun and different. The most important thing was, how can I get better and how can I help the team?" A student of the game, Reed's instincts and ability to diagnose quarterbacks' intentions are unparalleled. The six-time Pro Bowl selection has intercepted 46 career passes and scored a total of 13 touchdowns.

As much as Reed missed his ball-hawking chess match against quarterbacks, he missed the camaraderie of being in the huddle even more. "Just being around the guys on the field, it's a totally different feeling being on the field," Reed said. "Being in the walkthrough is a totally different feel. Just being part of the team, practicing and being out there, that's something you really miss. And that's what you enjoy when you get back." If the Ravens want to be cautious with Reed, they could opt to wait until after their bye week following the Buffalo game and get him ready for a Nov. 7 contest against the Miami Dolphins. All signs, though, point toward Reed getting back on the field this Sunday with him having the following week to rest his surgically-repaired hip. Reed has displayed in drills that he can still backpedal smoothly.

The 5-foot-11, 200-pounder appears to be in outstanding condition. His upper body looks a bit bigger and stronger than in the past. "It's huge, he brings back his leadership, his turnover abilities," defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said. "I hope he can be the regular old Reed he has been for the past couple years." Now, Reed rejoins the NFL's third-ranked pass defense and a secondary that didn't intercept a pass this season until picking off New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady twice Sunday in a 23-20 overtime loss.

"It's going to be big," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "To get one of the best players in the National Football League back on your defense is going to be huge. We went 4-2 without him, so just imagine what we can do with him and what we could have been with him earlier in the year."

Without Reed, the Ravens are a half-game out of first place in the AFC North behind the Pittsburgh Steelers.

With Reed getting back on the field, the Ravens regain a player who has returned his 46 interceptions for 1,255 yards for six touchdowns. That includes his NFL record 107-yard return against the Philadelphia Eagles. And the Ravens are 28-10 when he intercepts a pass, 8-0 when he picks off two passes in a game. "His résumé speaks for itself," All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "He's a ball-hawk in the back end of the field. And when he wants to go get something, he's going to go get it. And that takes our defense to a whole other level. So we understand it, he understands it, and I think that's kind of what the excitement is. "It's a beautiful life to have Ed back. To get a guy like Ed back is probably, for us right now, is probably one of the biggest things we can have for this team. To have Ed back, it's just a huge, huge bonus."

Reed has always been a player more interested in actions than words.

He spoke humbly about what sort of role he hoped to fulfill now that he's about to return. "Just play my part," Reed said. "Do what I'm supposed to do and then hopefully, I can continue to do the things that I did in the past." The Ravens won't rush Reed back in the lineup if he shows any negative signs this week. By all accounts, he had no problems Wednesday. He participated fully in practice and isn't listed on the injury report.

"We will be prudent, certainly, but there's definitely a possibility he can play," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He was out here in the walk-through, so that's the first we've seen him out there on the field. That was really great. "We all had a smile on our face, and he was excited to be out there. It's going to be based on how the specific issue responds to specifically practicing football at a fast pace. So, we'll just have to see how that shakes out." Reed acknowledged that a conservative approach has been discussed with coach Harbaugh and team officials.

However, everything appears to be set for him to play football as soon as Sunday. "We definitely talked about that, and that's one thing I knew coach Harbaugh was looking into, and the organization," Reed said. "That's why I went on PUP. From a surgical standpoint, it was an important six-month period of getting back to full strength, a year-long process of getting back to full strength. "We've still got time for recovery, and I still have some soreness in there and everything. So I'm pretty sure that's the thought up there." One lingering concern for Reed, 32, is his nerve impingement of his neck and shoulder. That has been an issue for the past few years and will probably require surgery at some point.

"I think time off definitely helped it, but getting back into the game, it's going to come right back," Reed said of the impingement. "It never left. I still have the impingement, but I worked out hard to try to strengthen it. At some time, I'll have to take care of it. "Hopefully, I won't have anything major. It's football. Things happen. It's a violent sport, a physical sport, and people get hurt." Reed said he needs to work out the kinks and shed some rust as he tries to get back to his Pro Bowl form.

One of the more cerebral athletes in the league, Reed thrives on using his brain and his body to full effect.

"I haven't moved around how you move around on the football field, as far as plays back to back, so it's going to be interesting to see how my body reacts to all the movement and carrying the weight around," Reed said. "It takes time to work out those rough spots, the mental lapses you might have on the field.

"It's like coming into training camp all over again. I know some things, remember a lot, but when you get out there in the fire and moving a lot faster, you can have those brain seizures."

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