Getting To Know (Again): WR Jake Reed

Wide receiver Jake Reed is comfortable with his role as the third receiver and knows he has to beat the one-on-one coverages.

The swagger, the strut, the stride. The feeling of invincibility, the unexplainable sense that envelopes a player when he runs onto the football field knowing there's not a defense in the National Football League that can afford to exhibit a flawed performance and still stop the Minnesota Vikings offense.

Loaded with more ammunition and artillery than many third-world countries, the Vikings offense enjoys the luxury of entering the field as if they were Tony Award-winning actors taking the stage on opening night. It is a sanguineous feeling the Vikings can attempt to describe, but fail to accurately define.

It is exactly what Jake Reed missed most when he departed for New Orleans after the Vikings didn't re-sign the veteran wide receiver after the 1999 season. For 16 weeks in the Big Easy, Reed felt a big disappointment.

"Walking on the field with confidence knowing that if they don't play their best ball, we're going to run them off the field … That's something I was missing last year," Reed said. "This year, when we walk on the field, you can feel the vibe that we're going to go out and make some plays and make something happen. It makes you walk kind of tall knowing you have to go out there and play.

"You have to live up not to how others feel about you, but how you feel about yourself. There's no other feeling that makes you feel like that. Last year, that was missing with me."

During the 1999 season, Reed thought he knew how good he had it. The Vikings were coming off an incredible 15-1 season, where they were within one single win of going to the Super Bowl. The following year, the team slumped — a relative term when dealing with the annual playoff-competing Vikings — and was ousted by the St. Louis Rams in the divisional round.

Randy Moss had just finished his second season in the league. He was beginning to put up astronomical numbers in a league that wasn't used to seeing those types of plays from such a raw, young but talented player. Cris Carter was aging, but, like fine wine, that was viewed by Vikings executives as an asset, not a liability.

Reed, who had just finished his ninth season in the NFL, was deserving of a respectable salary. In nine seasons with the Vikings, Reed had become one of the best in the Purple's history, catching 386 passes for 6,124 yards and 32 touchdowns. Considering he was the team's third receiver behind Moss and Carter, the Vikings figured it was a salary they couldn't work into the team payroll.

The Vikings couldn't pay him what he deserved, and Reed couldn't accept any less — a business decision both parties understood. Because of that, they parted on amicable terms.

Reed signed with the Saints and was instantly billed as a big-play receiver that would give New Orleans experience and another aerial option. Reed, who broke his leg in Week 6 and didn't return until the final game of the regular season, caught just 21 passes for 262 yards. He hadn't caught fewer than that since 1993, his second year in the league.

Injury or not, it was clearly evident his move to New Orleans wasn't bettering his career. "The injury was a bummer, but the situation I was in before that was different," Reed said. "It's nice when you're in a system (Minnesota) for a long time and the coaches know what you can do and know how to use you best. But then when I went to another system (New Orleans) and they tried to learn me, it was ‘We think he can do this, but let's try him at this, but let's try him at that.' I got to New Orleans and I think they did a lot of experimenting. I was running routes in the slot position, which I never did my whole career. It was a learning experience for me."

A lesson learned the hard way, although Reed insists he wouldn't trade the experience. In fact, throughout the entire season last year, Reed was one of the Vikings' biggest fans. Transplanted from the north to the south, from one end of the Mississippi River to the other, Reed watched and cheered from a distance as the Vikings marched through the regular season, through the playoffs and within a game of the Super Bowl, for the second time in three years.

"I always watched them if we weren't playing at the same time," Reed admitted. "I didn't leave the Vikings on bad terms. I still had a lot of good friends here — Cris, Randy, Orlando Thomas, Robert Griffith, Eddie Mac … on and on. Whenever I had a chance to watch them on TV, I watched to see my buddies and how they were doing and how they were performing."

For a year, Reed wore the Fleur de Lis on his helmet instead of the Vikings horns. But he still bled with a purple tint. For that reason (in addition to the deep friendships he established during his career) Reed refused to rip his former team in any fashion.

"I never thought the road would lead back to here, but it's just like in life, I wouldn't burn any bridges in Minnesota or New Orleans," Reed said. "That's not me. That's not my personality. If someone does me wrong, I'm not going to go out and bad-mouth them. I'll leave them alone and do my own thing. If they come around later, we'll be friends again. When I left Minnesota, I left on good terms and stayed in touch with a lot of guys on the team.

"It feels good to be back."

No offense, Jake, but how can't it?

He has been plucked from New Orleans and returned to the place where his career started, at the practice facility he called home for nine seasons, with a team that made the playoffs in seven of those nine years. The Saints aren't expected to be a slouch, either. But New Orleans' forte is defense, not offense. The same can't be said of Reed's Vikings.

This season, Reed catches passes from Daunte Culpepper, not Jeff Blake. Reed sees a lighting-fast Michael Bennett in the backfield, not oft-injured Ricky Williams. Reed lines up with Moss and Carter, not Joe Horn and Willie Jackson.

Get the picture? Reed does.

"Three Deep" has returned. It means so much to the Vikings Promethean receiving trio that Moss was willing to sustain a fine from the league for donning an unlicensed "Three Deep" baseball cap while on the sidelines during a preseason game.

That's how deep this fraternity extends between Moss, Carter and Reed.

"I take a lot of pride in ‘Three Deep,'" Reed said. "It's something me and Cris and Randy started. ‘Three Deep' — Cris and Randy make plays, and I have to go out and make plays, too. If I do that, it'll take the pressure off Cris and Randy.

"If I make plays on the opposite side, teams will play us more honest and that's what I'm here to do. I'm here to make plays. If I don't make plays and run my best routes, I'll be the most pissed guy on the field. If I can't win the one-on-one (coverage situations), then I shouldn't be here. So that's what I need to do — win the one-on-ones."

Reed understands his role perfectly.

"That's why we got Jake Reed here," coach Dennis Green said. "We got Jake back so we're going to try to get back to the ‘Three Deep' offense."

It took him a year in New Orleans, but Reed now knows he won't let the statistics distract him. Moss is the top receiver, Carter is up there, too. Reed is a complementary piece of the trio. After spending time as a Saint, Reed graciously and gladly accepts those terms.

"I'm not going to pay a lot of attention to the numbers … I got caught up in that before," Reed said. "When you start looking at the numbers and thinking you're not getting involved, you find yourself slipping. The only thing I'm going to do is go out and catch balls that they throw to me and do what I have to do to help the team get to the next level and win games.

"If they throw me two balls, I need to catch two balls. If they throw me five, I need to catch five; not drop three and catch two. Then I'm not holding up my end of the bargain. I just have to worry about catching the balls that were thrown to me."

Admittedly, grasping that concept was Reed's biggest catch of all. VU

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