Reed's status up in the air

WESTMINSTER -- Ed Reed collided with Ernie Wheelwright, tentatively throwing his good, right shoulder into the big rookie wide receiver only to bounce off and fall to the ground. As Reed got up gingerly Monday morning at McDaniel College, he was clearly in pain and favoring his injured left shoulder after the fall despite making minimal contact.

Although coach John Harbaugh expressed optimism that Reed will be ready for the Baltimore Ravens' season opener Sept. 7 against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Pro Bowl safety was noncommittal on that timetable and expressed serious concern about a nagging shoulder problem that includes nerve issues.

"It's day-to-day right now, it's a little bit more in-depth than you've been hearing about," Reed said. "I can't really explain it at this point because I've been researching it myself, but I figure I might be all right.

"It's just years of playing this game. Most tackles that I've made have been on my left side, but I'm out here moving around and loosening it up. It's just being smart with it."

When asked if he will be medically cleared for the Bengals game, Reed issued a guarded reply: "We'll see, man. We'll see."

Reed passed his physical Saturday and began practicing after being activated from the physically unable to perform list.

However, Reed is not medically cleared to tackle yet.

Reed's wariness is contrasted by Harbaugh's stance that the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year will be ready to duel with Carson Palmer and Chad Johnson.

"I'm not doubtful of that at all, based on what we've been told by the doctors," Harbaugh said. "But I understand where, as an athlete, you want it to be right. .. We've got plenty of experts working on it.

"I think they're confident that they're making a lot of progress with the deal. Any great player wants to feel physically right. It's our job and our goal to get him to that point."

Reed hasn't missed a game in the past two years with just seven missed in six seasons. He missed six games three years ago due to an ankle injury.

He acknowledged that this shoulder condition may eventually require surgery.

"At some point, probably after football, I'll have to have surgery just to clear things up," Reed said.

When Reed is healthy, there's no question about his skills. He's the franchise's all-time leader with 34 career interceptions since being drafted in the first round out of the University of Miami.

"I hate Ed Reed because he's so good," joked wide receiver Derrick Mason. "When I used to play against him, you just couldn't throw the ball in the middle of the field because he was always around it. Now that I'm playing with him, it's the same thing in practice.

"He is the best free safety in the game, hands down. There's nobody better than him. Nobody roams the field better than him. Nobody catches the ball better in that back end."

Sporting a red No. 20 jersey identical to the quarterbacks, Reed is off-limits to full-contact drills.

"I played quarterback in high school, so if they need me to go over there with those guys, I can," Reed said with a smile.

A four-time Pro Bowl selection, Reed is regarded as a game-changing athlete whose impact is felt in his hard hits and in his ability to affect the scoreboard.

He has an uncanny tendency of anticipating where the ball is going.

"It's natural," Reed said. "It's something you're born with. It's just something you can't teach."

Reed has three interception returns for touchdowns, also scoring on a fumble return and three times on four blocked punts. Last season, he notched a 63-yard punt return for a touchdown.

"Everybody always tells me, you better watch your back because Ed will take your candy," cornerback Frank Walker said. "Ed can sneak up on you. I'm breaking on the ball and I see Ed fly by: 'Where you come from, man.?'

"He's everywhere. I've always heard stories about how Ed Reed makes plays, and now I'm out here witnessing it."

Reed is excited about being reunited with secondary coach Chuck Pagano, who coached him at Miami. It's a familiarity factor that may pay dividends.

"Coach understands me," Reed said. "He definitely helps me just as a man, coach knows me. I've been helping him understand the guys that we have, and I think that's really good."

Harbaugh coached the Philadelphia Eagles' secondary last season, including standout safety Brian Dawkins, but Reed is a unique football player.

With his range, hitting ability and instincts, Reed is considered one of the top safeties in the NFL over the past decade.

"Having coached the secondary, you have a good idea of the picture you look for back there," Harbaugh said. "Ed is good enough to change the picture just a little bit. He doesn't have to be quite as deep or quite as wide as another guy to make plays over the years, by baiting quarterbacks a little bit. He's got a real knack for that."

Reed will celebrate his 30th birthday next month, a milestone in a young man's game.

Devoted to film study and exercise, Reed is confident that his acumen and strategy will override slowing down any since his rookie season. A sore shoulder is his chief obstacle.

"The experience is there," he said. "As we get older, the quickness tends to slow down. But I think I'm a lot better than I was at the beginning of my career mentally. The quickness and everything is still up to par, but I've still got a lot of work to do."

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

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