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Some additional thoughts on Ed Reed and team leadership

Anyone who has ever read anything I've written on this blog, or for the Sun, probably knows I'm a little long-winded. It's rare in this day and age of daily newspapers to get a ton of space for stories, so it is a credit to my editors that I was able to write a lengthy piece in this Sunday's Sun exploring just how valuable Ed Reed is to the Ravens and what it might mean if he really does decide to retire because of injuries to his neck, hip and groin.

Even with all that space, there are a few other tidbits that didn't make it into the story that I thought were worth sharing, if you're interested. I find Reed to be a fascinating person and player. He's also a hard person to get to know because he has almost no interest in speaking with the media on a weekly basis.

Reed really is the most popular player in the Ravens locker room, in part because he's as friendly and engaging with the practice players as he is the Pro Bowlers. It's really easy to get people to say kind things about him. Professional locker rooms can be just as cliquish as high school and college locker rooms, with pecking orders and jealousy playing a role in team harmony. But if you truly believe in the concept of TEAM, then someone like Reed can be invaluable.

"By far, the most genuine guy there is," said defensive lineman Trevor Pryce. "By far. There is no waffling in him, no talking bad about you behind your back, no locker room gossip or any of that stuff comes out of him. He's the best teammate. He's the kind of teammate you've always wanted to have."

How does that translate into on-field success? I asked Chris Carr that question, and he gave what I thought was an interesting answer.

"The first thing you notice, as soon as you meet him, there is just a comfortability there," Carr said. "Sometimes it takes awhile to warm up to somebody and really get to know them. It really takes awhile to get to know anybody. You feel comfortable talking to him from the get go. You can be here for a month and you feel like you've known him for a year. He just kind of has that disposition where he's very friendly and has a warm personality that's very friendly to talk to. As a defensive back, not only is he a great friend, when somebody has that disposition, it's very easy to talk to them about coverages and assignments and you know that 'This is the best who's done it.' It's very easy to talk to him and get suggestions. He humbles himself that way, so I should humble myself that way too."

Reed and Domonique Foxworth had never met before Foxworth signed with the Ravens this season, but Foxworth explained that Reed met him at the facility one day and quickly embraced him. Before long, the two of them were bouncing ideas off one another about different coverages they could play during the season.

"I think he recognized I was a pretty bright guy and that we could do some pretty complex things with the defense and the secondary," Foxworth said. "From then to now, we always bounce ideas off one another of different ways to cover different routes and ways to change up the defense to keep people on our toes. Sometimes we draw up some crazy things and pass them back and forth to each other. One of us has to be the voice of reason and say 'Nah, that's too much.' It just works out and creates plays on Sunday."

With Peyton Manning and the Colts in the Super Bowl, you're going to hear a lot of discussion about whether or not a second Super Bowl ring would help solidify him as perhaps the greatest quarterback of all time. And those who argue in Manning's favor are going to use how well he reads coverage as a point in his favor. But as two games against the Colts this season demonstrated, Reed might be as adept as any defender in the league at getting inside Manning's head.

In the regular season game between the Colts and Ravens, Reed intercepted Manning on a play that looked, to me, like Manning simply made a dumb throw into double coverage. But when the Ravens faced the Patriots in the first round of the playoffs and New England coach Bill Belichick was singing the praises of Reed, he called that play "the defensive play of the year in the NFL, as far as I'm concerned."

I couldn't understand why he would say that, since in essence, it looked like little more than a foolish throw by Manning, but Foxworth -- without giving away the specifics of the coverage -- agreed to expound on what unfolded. (And what Belichick seemed to understand had taken place.)

"We know how smart Peyton is," Foxworth said. "So, we try to use his intelligence against him. Some quarterbacks won't notice if someone is out position or won't notice if someone is playing a route a certain way. But Peyton does. This is something that Ed and I have always talked about, especially talked about facing Peyton before the season even started. We both know him to be one of those guys who sees everything. It's important for us to show him stuff that we wanted him to see, and make him think we didn't want him to see it."

What Foxworth is saying, essentially, is that he and Reed made Manning think he was out-smarting them, that they were giving away tendencies, when in reality he was playing right into their hands.

"That's the best way to describe that interception," Foxworth continued. "It requires the entire secondary to work together. It's funny, a lot of times in the media, everything gets over simplified. Wow, what an amazing play. It kind of annoys me sometimes because it doesn't give us the intellectual credit we deserve. People think, 'Oh what an amazing athletic play Ed Reed had.' It was an amazing athletic play. I can't expect anyone to know all this, but that play we had been setting that up weeks prior, setting it up throughout the course of the game to get one play, and everything fell where it was supposed to fall, and he threw it right to Ed Reed."

All of this isn't to suggest Reed is perfect. I think he drives a lot of old school football types bonkers with his penchant for lateraling the ball every time he gets his hands on it. He does freelance at times on defense, although I don't think any of us know whether the coaches encourage it, or disapprove of it and simply can't stop it because he's Ed Reed.

But Reed's also never gone on his radio show to criticize his head coach, or turned his contract negotiations into a soap opera. He's never engaged in petty feuds with former teammates or, as far as I know, held himself up to be bigger than the team. Maybe he'll be back next year, and maybe he'll retire. Only Reed knows what's in his heart. Either way, you may want to take a few seconds to appreciate, and enjoy, what Reed means to the Ravens.

For however long it lasts.

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