Football players come and go. But every once in a while they come and go … and then come back for more.
That is exactly the case with wide receiver Jake Reed. He came to the Vikings in 1991 as a third-round draft pick, stayed for nine years, left last year for what he thought might be a better situation in New Orleans and decided Minnesota was his football home.
Reed returns to the Vikings with a new perspective, new role, new attitude and new look. Put them all together and Reed seems to have a new level of content with his professional and private life.
During his first go-round with the Vikings, Reed made a slow, charted ascent to being a solid starting wide receiver and eventually formed one of the best receiving duos in the National Football League with Cris Carter. He also formed a friendship with Carter, one that Carter still cherishes. But none of it came easy for Reed.
He was deactivated for the first seven games of his rookie 1991 season, then two weeks later, after getting a sip of the NFL playing juices, was put on injured reserve with an ankle injury. He worked his way onto the field more consistently in 1992 and recorded 21 special teams tackles in yeoman-like fashion.
In 1993, he got his first NFL start, but had to wait almost halfway into the season to get there again after fracturing his fibula. Finally, in 1994, Jake Reed arrived at the top of the receiving game, catching 85 passes, fifth-best in the NFC, and, along with Carter, set an NFL record with a combined 207 receptions. From there, Reed's success stayed relatively consistent as one of the league's top receivers.
But then 1998 came. And Randy Moss broke onto the scene. And Reed was forced to accept the fact that Moss was destined to become a top receiver. That put Reed in a diminished role.
Still, there was no bitterness, he says.
"It's always tough when you're starting and you have a rookie come in and start taking over, but there has never been any type of hard feelings between me and Randy," Reed said.
Eventually, after two years with Moss and Carter as the lead receivers, Reed moved on to New Orleans … then moved back. Back to a place he is now much more excited to be and back to a team and the surroundings he found out he missed.
"By being away last year, it's given me a better appreciation of this team, of the practice schedule, the situation around here. I look at things differently. I'm not as relaxed as I was in '99. I'm more intense and focused on what I need to do," Reed said.
Reed's year in New Orleans last season put him back in the starting role, but starting in New Orleans didn't necessarily mean more action for the 6-foot-3 receiver. After six games, he had 12 catches — and a broken leg. That injury sidelined him almost until the playoffs. He ended the season with 16 catches for 206 yards — and a yearning to return to the Vikings.
"It's always frustrating when you get injured, year after year, year after year," Reed said "You're in such good shape, you come into camp and you're ready to go. Then you have a little freak injury like that; it's always frustrating when you have to sit down.
"Other than that, I had a good time in New Orleans. New Orleans wasn't bad, but, hey, this is home."
Which brings us to Reed's renewed focus.
He left after two years of Moss catching most of the deep balls thrown by Brad Johnson, Randall Cunningham and Jeff George. And while Moss was catching stardom and Carter was continuing his perennial Pro Bowl ways, the Vikings continued their transitional ways at quarterback.
When Reed left after the 1999 season, the Vikings — or at least the Viking making the decisions, head coach Dennis Green — decided against all critics' voices that Jeff George was expendable and that Daunte Culpepper could handle being a starting quarterback on a team that featured Moss and Carter. Green was right, and Culpepper shocked the football world.
"I think he surprised everyone but Denny Green," Reed said of Culpepper. "When Denny Green put him there, he was the only one that believed in him. When a guy has that much talent, you really can't limit him to anything. Once he got the plays down and got comfortable in the system, he can do almost anything he wants on the field.
"He (Culpepper) has a lot more poise, a lot more confidence in himself. He knows we have good guys around him, to just get the ball to those guys to make the plays. He's a good quarterback. He can read the coverage and look over the field. He's not impatient. He can take what the defense gives him. That's what made him real good last year. If the pass wasn't there, he pulled it down and ran. If Randy wasn't open or Cris, he dumped it off to Robert Smith."
Minnesota's purple landscape is a little different from the time Reed left in the spring of 2000 — with Culpepper throwing and Robert Smith no longer running — but Reed's role pretty much picks up where he left it.
Green saw firsthand how Reed can help an offense: "Daunte Culpepper, Cris Carter, Jake Reed, that gives us a great passing combination, Byron Chamberlain," Green said. "We think that we are going to have a significantly improved passing offense … We think that Jake will take a little bit of pressure off of the other side …
"Jake Reed has had the kind of weeks or months that make him be one of the best in the game too, and we're hoping that Jake will come back and catch stride."
Only this time, Reed seems more content with his role as the third receiver.
"I know we're going to throw the ball around here, so that makes me feel good. I know I'm the third receiver. I know with Randy and Cris, we are going to get a lot of double teams, a lot of brackets, to leave me one-on-one down the back side."
In two preseason games, Reed has caught a combined three passes for 27 yards. His mantra this preseason has been that he knows he is the third wide receiver and he'll be happy making plays when they come his way.
And he'll be prepared — physically and mentally.
The mental part, he can talk about. The physical preparation, well, that really must be seen to be appreciated. He appears to be in much better shape than at any time in his 10-year career and ready to reap the rewards.
"I feel like if I can lose some weight and keep my strength and increase my speed and stay physical, I think it will be good for me. That's what I did this whole offseason," he said. "I concentrated on dropping weight, getting stronger and keeping my speed up."
The results are impressive to the eye — it's much more of a statement seeing the result than hearing Reed talk about the result. How much weight has he actually lost?
"About seven pounds. I know, only seven pounds," Reed reiterated upon request. "I lost seven pounds, but I tried to tone up everything."
"I feel quicker. I feel like I can get around on the ball a little better. Durability, man. You start getting a little older, you start putting on the old-man weight. Just to stay in this game and be competitive, trying to beat the young guys, you try to do things different every year. This year, I wanted to lose weight. I accomplished this goal. This year, I want to play around 214, 215 all year."
He's got his playing home back, he's got his mind in the right place to accept his new role, he's got a fresh, young quarterback he now believes in, he's got a body he trusts will help him improving and he's got a coach that he trusts isn't going to overwork him.
"When you come here in Minnesota, (Green) is going to keep you fresh. Everything is tempo and speed," Reed said. "A lot of other places you go, they work you and it's just grind, grind, grind … That's why a lot of guys want to play here … And Denny Green believes in family. He's a big family man. You can bring your kids over (to Winter Park) and do activities with the family. A lot of times, the grass isn't always greener on the other side, no matter how much money you're making. You can make a lot of money but still be miserable."
This year, Reed seems to have pulled himself out of that place and is as happy as ever to be back with the Vikings. He found out you can come and go … and come back again, with a smile on your face. VU
Reed Content To Be Back
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