Ravens' Reed primed for second season

OWINGS MILLS - The chess match never ends for Ed Reed. Although the Baltimore Ravens' strong safety is just beginning to learn the nuances of the actual board game, he's always thinking about the strategy involved in football. How will the quarterback react to a coverage scheme or blitz package? What tendencies have the receivers revealed in previous encounters? Is a running back fast enough to breach outside containment?

Following a rookie year where Reed established himself as a constant threat to intercept the football, block a punt or tackle a back behind the line of scrimmage, he hasn't deviated from that cerebral approach.

"I'm always thinking about football because that's my job, and it's a lot like a chess match," Reed said. "Just like a financial advisor always thinks about money, or the president thinks about the well-being of the whole country. I'm always thinking about football because it's in my heart.

"I want to be the best at my position across the league. I want to be the best ever at safety, so anytime people speak about safeties I want them speaking of Ed Reed."

During his first NFL season, Reed tied a club rookie mark with five interceptions to lead the team. Reed blocked the first two punts in franchise history, returning one for a touchdown. And he finished fourth on the team with 86 tackles.

About the only major glitch occurred when Reed celebrated too soon and fumbled away a sure touchdown on an interception return against the Bengals. Reed intercepted another pass to seal that contest, delivering a key block on Lamont Brightful's 95-yard punt return.

"Again, I keep coming back to the point that Ed Reed as a rookie took more snaps than any player on this football team last year," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "That's an incredible amount of knowledge that he was able to assimilate. Any team he's been on he's been the leader."

Last season, Reed deflected 13 passes and was rarely victimized by savvy quarterbacks and receivers downfield as the Ravens led the AFC with 25 interceptions.

Reed haunted film rooms at the Ravens' training complex and spent his free time studying extra tape at fellow University of Miami football alum Ray Lewis' house.

"A guy who loves the game visualizes the game and prepares while he's on and off the field," Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. "Ed's always thinking about it. He's an excellent football player who outplayed a lot of veterans. "What people don't realize is it's not so much the assignments. It's when it's crunch time; does he know what your opponent is going to do? Typically, the intelligent guys know what to do at the most important times."

Because Reed doesn't have prototypical size for a safety at 5-foot-11 and 205 pounds, he's less inclined to run through a brawny offensive guard or fullback. He knifes through the clutter and has a knack for open-field tackling.

"In run support, Ed's not going to come up and blow up everybody," Nolan said. "Ray's a playmaker and Ed's a playmaker. The objective isn't to see how many people you can take out on your way there. It's to make the tackle."

Reed hasn't bulked up much in the weight room, but did increase his speed and lowered his body-fat percentage.

He has been on a fairly strict diet consisting of fish, chicken, fruit and vegetables. Fried food is out.

"Yeah, man, you can't be complacent," Reed said. "Not if you want to get better."

Besides the diet and lifting, Reed has been compiling a book of notes on opponents. Reed kept the weekly cheat sheet secondary coach Donnie Henderson gave to the defensive backs and added his own conclusions about opponents.

"I'm always breaking teams and players down," Reed said. "I'm still studying chess and learning the moves. I know that I don't want to be a pawn."

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