Reed hits the field

WESTMINSTER -- Baltimore Ravens free safety Ed Reed reacted with his trademark quickness, alertly nabbing an interception on a Troy Smith throw Saturday morning as he practiced for the first time this season.

Despite lining up with the starting defense, there was a clear sartorial sign that the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year isn't quite recovered from a shoulder injury that had sidelined him on the physically unable to perform list for the first two weeks of training camp.

Reed was sporting a red jersey identical to the quarterbacks, which indicates that he can't participate in full-contact drills.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said that Reed will be able to resume hitting soon, probably not before the next preseason game, but definitely before the end of the preseason.

While Reed needs to regain strength in the shoulder, there's also a pinched nerve that complicates the issue and dates back to an injury suffered late last season.

"It's more of a strength issue," Harbaugh said. "He's got a little nerve issue in there as far as a bone in there that gets a little smaller and smaller as time goes on. As long as he's strong, he's okay to play."

Reed intercepted a team-high seven passes last season and was named to his fourth Pro Bowl. He's the franchise's career leader with 34 interceptions entering his seventh NFL season.

The former first-round draft pick is a pivotal element of one of the league's top defenses.

"It's great to have him back out here with us," rookie safety Tom Zbikowski said. "Now, you get a chance to watch him and see the things he's seeing and ask him questions."

Reed declined an interview request after signing several autographs for children, citing another commitment. His lone comment on returning to practice was a remark about the weather: "It's hot out here."

Reed wasn't the only defensive starter to return to work Saturday. Cornerback Samari Rolle, who missed the first 11 weeks following the death of his father, practiced for the first time and nearly intercepted a Smith pass.

"That was really great to be out there with my teammates," Rolle said. "I've been missing this feeling."

With Rolle and Reed back, the only other defensive starters who are out of the lineup are defensive tackle Haloti Ngata with a sprained right medial collateral ligament, nose guard Kelly Gregg with a left knee injury and cornerback Chris McAlister with a sore right knee.

"The pieces are starting to come back together," star middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "When you start piecing these guys back together one at a time, two at a time, that's always a great advantage.

"You want to build up to your first game. Once these guys come back, then you start to see our whole defense gel."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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