Demps and Reed are a winning duo

Will Demps used to surf the picturesque waves of Southern California. Hang ten, dude. Before he emerged as the Baltimore Ravens' free safety after going undrafted, Demps began at the bottom of the ladder at San Diego State as an unheralded walk-on. Demps' mother is from Korea. His father is from North Carolina. Ed Reed was born on the Bayou as the son of a Louisiana shipwelder. He was good enough at football to deserve a full ride with the powerhouse Miami Hurricanes.

Described as the heart and soul of the national champions, Reed became the club's first-round draft pick this spring.

Today, Reed is the Ravens' strong safety and has intercepted passes in two consecutive wins for the top team in the AFC North. Reed created the game-preserving turnover in the fourth quarter against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday night.

 From divergent backgrounds, the rookie duo of Demps and Reed head up a list of 17 rookies on a roster once thought to be bereft of much depth on defense.

"I sort of know how Will felt coming in because I was overlooked out of high school," said Reed, who wasn't heavily recruited by high-profile programs except for Miami. "I had to prove myself, too. We're bonding.

"Don't worry about how young we are, because we both know we can play ball."

 Not much was predicted for Demps until he opened eyes by collecting more turnovers than anyone else in August. Everything was expected of Reed as the 24th overall selection. And now they're side by side in the Ravens secondary.

"It's weird how this first-round pick is next to me, but it doesn't matter about where you're from, it's about where you're at when you're at this level," said Demps, a two-time all-Mountain West Conference selection with 229 career tackles and five interceptions. "Sometimes, you think about it all. John Madden was talking about how I walked on, but it's not how you get there. It's how long you stay there."

Demps continues to make plays despite the presence of a cumbersome brace to protect a dislocated elbow that cost him the first two games. Reed is living up to expectations generated through a reputation he built as a consensus All-American with a school-record 21 career interceptions.

Neither player is imposing in size as both are listed at 5-foot-11 and 205 pounds.

 Ravens coach Brian Billick likes to tease Reed that he wouldn't have dropped a sure interception during the 26-21 victory over the Browns if he hadn't missed so many training camp practices during a contract holdout.

Against the Browns, Reed deflected four passes to go with his end-zone interception of Kelly Holcomb's pass intended for receiver Kevin Johnson.

"I think what you're seeing clearly is Ed Reed is becoming more comfortable with the scheme," Billick said. "When we drafted Ed, he was one of those guys who just kept falling on the board. We just said, ‘This is a hell of a player.'

"Moving him to the strong safety position gave him more of an opportunity to be a playmaker, and he's done that. He showed why he was our No. 1 draft pick, and hopefully he'll continue to improve."

Along with promising second-year cornerback Gary Baxter, Demps and Reed comprise a secondary that returned just one starter entering the season in veteran cornerback Chris McAlister. Demps has become popular for his uncanny, innate sense for which direction the football is heading, a critical skill for a defensive back.

 "Demps is for real," McAlister said. "I'm not surprised by anything he does anymore. He belongs."

In his first start at strong safety against the Denver Broncos, Demps had five tackles and two pass deflections. Reed victimized Brian Griese, too, picking off a pass to go with four tackles and a blocked punt.

"They're doing a great job," defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. "A lot of the credit goes to our secondary coach Donnie Henderson. It's a young group, but they know the importance of playing together."

Demps and Reed are 22 and 23, respectively, but haven't let their age become a detriment so far.

"We know we're young, but we don't use that as an excuse," Demps said. "We'll stay humble and keep working at it. Sometimes, we joke around like that about how young we are, but we know that we have a job to do.

"We tell each other we have to communicate and to stay focused. If we have a bad play, we don't worry about it and come back the next play."


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