Reed is Ravens' catalyst

OWINGS MILLS - If Ray Lewis is the conscience of the Baltimore Ravens' defense, then Ed Reed represents its catalyst.

Through a blur of blitzes, interceptions and blocked punts, the Pro Bowl safety is a scourge of disruption to opponents.

In a 17-10 win over the Washington Redskins a week ago, virtually all of Reed's multi-faceted game was on display as he single-handedly changed the complexion of a game Baltimore was in danger of losing.

Down 10-0, Reed burst upfield on a safety blitz to sack Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell. The force and placement of the blow knocked the football out of Brunell's hands.

Impressive enough, but Reed demonstrated presence of mind and rare agility to quickly retrieve the fumble and scampered 22 yards for a touchdown.

The score began a string of 17 unanswered points.

Call it hunger, call it instincts, or an ideal combination of athleticism and work ethic, but Reed has emerged as one of the most dynamic, studious defensive players in the NFL in his third season.

"Ed Reed is one of those guys who has a knack for this game, and he loves it," said Lewis, whose team returns to practice today at its new training complex following a bye. "It's rare that you find someone with the athletic ability that's willing to work and then love it at the same time. That's hard to find a young guy like that. "I love that guy to death. I am like a little kid when I see him make a play."

Directly after his touchdown, the former University of Miami All-American tackled running back Clinton Portis for a two-yard loss on a 3rd-and-1. B.J. Sams returned the ensuing punt 78 yards for a touchdown as Reed threw a key block to run interference for the rookie return specialist.

If nickel back Deion Sanders hadn't intercepted Brunell's end-zone pass intended for Laveranues Coles, it would have likely been Reed's 15th career interception. Reed has also blocked four career punts.

"Ed is the best safety in the league," said Sanders, a future lock for the Hall of the Fame. "He is a playmaker, a bona fide playmaker. He is a cornerback playing safety. That's his mentality."

Although somewhat undersized at 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds, Reed operates comfortably at the line of scrimmage. He registered three tackles for losses among his six tackles against Washington.

"Coming from Prime Time, come on man," Reed said when Sanders' comments were relayed to him. "I've been in awe of him. I just wanted to do things that Deion has been doing from the start of his career until now. To be doing things like that and getting that from Prime, I don't need it from nobody else."

With Lewis, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year and fellow Miami football alum in the middle, and Reed backing him up, it's an unmatched tandem.

"I don't know who I would equate him to," Ravens coach Brian Billick said regarding Reed. "He has such a great natural sense of the game and has evolved and is getting better and better at knowing how to do it within the structure of the defense as well.

"That's where, even within these last five games, he's really balanced out his game. He has such a huge passion for the game. To have he and a Ray Lewis in that combination-front end, back end, is kind of special."

Through five games, Reed has intercepted two passes with 25 tackles and four pass deflections, adding a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in one play at the expense of Brunell. Last season, Reed intercepted seven passes to tie a team mark and blocked two punts for touchdowns last season. He led the Ravens with 19 pass deflections.

"Ed's talent doesn't surprise me, and if he keeps it up he'll be one of the greatest secondary players ever because of his nose for the ball," outside linebacker Adalius Thomas said. "He works hard, and he reaps the rewards. He's definitely a leader."

A self-described homebody, Reed, 26, spends most of his spare time studying film at Lewis' house. He's constantly searching for an edge, a tendency, or a revealing false step. Once Reed identifies an offense's weakness, he can't wait to exploit it.

"I'm going to keep going so long as God lets me, because this is what he has blessed me to do," Reed said. "To make a play, it's what gets me going and it's why I play this game.

"I just keep going, focusing, talking to Ray, having fun and I don't worry about a thing. I just keep going."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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