RAVENS SAFETY Ed Reed had a breakthrough as a rookie last year, but now he could have a breakout year.
There is a difference. Last season, Reed distinguished himself as the best safety on the team. This year, he might be one of the best in the league. We're talking All-AFC. We're talking Pro Bowl and an all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii.
That's a pretty good fan club.
"I tell you what, he has such a presence about him that is far beyond his age and experience," Billick said. "You can't help to look at him as anything but a veteran.
"I think he could have the breakout year, kind of like Todd Heap [who made the AFC Pro Bowl team last season in his second year]," Billick said. "His intuitiveness exceeds his experience. He is going to have a long career, and this could be the first of many Pro Bowls."
Such talk might rattle other players, but not Reed, 24. There is a reason some people call him "Easy" Ed Reed. The man doesn't sweat. You get the impression that if a three-story building was on fire, the last person to escape would be Reed.
And he wouldn't come running out of the building, but strutting in those long, slow easy strides. Now, don't get the impression that Reed isn't emotional or passionate about his job. Far from it.
But right next to the word "chillin' " in the dictionary is a picture of Ed Reed. Excuse me, that's "Easy" Ed Reed.
"I'm a pretty relaxed guy," Reed said. "I catch a movie occasionally. I'm more into the action, drama-type stuff. I don't like too much suspense, don't like the guessing-type stuff. I like to read good, inspirational books."
His favorite author?
"Funny you would ask me that," said Reed, laughing. "My favorite author is Jesus Christ and the Bible itself. That's one book you can always pick up and add some inspiration to your life at any time. With me, I'm just me. I'm Edward E. Reed Jr., that's how I'm different from anybody else."
He'll also separate himself from others on the field this season. Last season, Reed had 86 tackles, fourth on the team, and led the Ravens with a rookie record five interceptions. He also blocked two punts, including one he returned 11 yards for a touchdown.
The Ravens have only three blocks in their history. Reed just has a knack for making plays. Not just any play, but spectacular ones.
"Instincts, I guess you could say that," said Reed. "I've also been blessed with talent and the desire to work hard - to want to be faster, to want to be quicker and to want to make those plays."
And that's what has the Ravens so excited about Reed for the coming season. He had a full offseason to work out under an NFL-designed program. He has been in training camp since Day One compared with a brief holdout last season. He is familiar with the system.
He has the green light.
"Ed Reed is focused," said Ray Lewis, who, like Reed, attended the University of Miami. "I had him with me the majority of the summer. When he did go back home, he stayed focused. That's the beautiful thing about him. He is always willing to learn, always willing to work, and he comes from UM, that's always a special incentive to work."
Reed said: "I didn't have to go through negotiations this year. I know how to handle the camp situation now. The system wasn't hard to learn, but to me, that's the most important part of the game. Once you get the mental part down, you should be ready to go if you have prepared yourself physically. Look for me out there. I'm definitely going to have some fun. I learned a lot from last year, especially not to celebrate until I get into the end zone."
Reed laughs. That's a good thing about him. He is able to laugh at himself. He can't forget the game against the Cincinnati Bengals last season when he intercepted a pass and weaved through traffic toward the end zone but had the ball knocked out of his outstretched hands just before the goal line because of his premature celebration.
The Bengals recovered in the Ravens end zone.
"This is what you play for, right here," said Reed, pointing to fans. "We're out here for the fans. You love to see the fans happy. Of course, there are times you do bonehead things like leave the ball out. But those are things you learn to have fun with. You learn from it and go from there.
"If you don't have some fun with this game, you can become real discouraged about what you're doing, and you're not going to be able to perform at your very best. I love to hear those cheers. It will be hard for anybody to keep me out of the end zone this year. Definitely, keep an eye out."
We will, and so will the rest of the league.
"I'm prepared to have a season better than last year," Reed said. "I've got a lot more years to go in this league, and we'll look at the end of my career and see which year was the breakout year."