For Reed, virtue of patience has been his biggest reward

The verse, from the Book of Philippians, is written on a scrap of paper and taped to the dressing stall of Ed Reed's locker. It has been a gentle reminder for the Ravens free safety every day that he has gone to work at the team's practice facility in Owings Mills the past five seasons.

To Reed, who recently was named a starter for his third Pro Bowl and yesterday selected All-Pro for the second time, it teaches about the value of patience, a necessary quality to possess in the position he plays for the Ravens. It also is certainly not anything new in the way Reed goes about his life.


Patience was necessary when Reed was a slightly oversized 13-year-old living outside New Orleans and unable to play on a local youth football team because he was a few pounds over the weight limit. He simply waited until the rest of the kids caught up the next year.

It was also important for Reed the day he was drafted by the Ravens. A first-team All-American who as a senior helped lead the University of Miami to a national championship, Reed saw three other defensive backs chosen before the Ravens made him the 24th overall pick.


Reed's resolve has been tried the past two seasons in Baltimore. After being named All-Pro in his second season in 2003, and NFL Defensive Player of the Year in his third, Reed saw his numbers - and perhaps his reputation - nose dive last year.

Reed, who missed six games with a severe ankle sprain last season, made only one interception and had just two in the first eight games this season. Some wondered if Reed had fully recovered from the injury, or whether, like other players, he had lost some of his hunger after signing a big contract last summer. The little piece of paper attached to his locker often helped get Reed through some tough days.

"I have to be reminded by it always, but it's something that over time really built up just going through life situations," Reed, 28, said. "Relating to football, especially playing safety. I got a lot of rag last year, kind of this year, too, because you weren't seeing those plays."

Reed heard the whispers around the league, if not around the locker room, that he was no longer in the conversation about being the league's top safety. Many looked at Pittsburgh's Troy Polamalu, others at Philadelphia's Brian Dawkins or Denver's John Lynch.

"Where is Ed Reed? That sort of thing," Reed said of the razzing. "Football is that up-and-down type of game. It's not going to always come your way, but when it does, you've got to make the best of your opportunities."

As the Ravens prepare for their first playoff game in three seasons, there are signs that Reed is getting back to the level he played at two seasons ago.

Special season

That season Reed set a franchise record with nine interceptions, and broke NFL records for overall return yardage after interceptions with 358 as well as a single interception return, the 106-yarder he had against the Cleveland Browns. He also blocked a punt in each of his first two seasons.


Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said it was just a matter of time for that Reed to re-emerge.

"Like I told him, everything comes in bunches, and that's what's happening for him right now," Lewis said of Reed, who has three interceptions in the past four games to give him five for the season. "He's a ball hawk. Sooner or later once he starts getting his hands on it, it's going to find him, anyway."

It found Reed twice in the Ravens' 20-10 road win over the Kansas City Chiefs on Dec. 10, and once more in a 31-7 win at Pittsburgh two weeks later which he returned 37 yards to set up the Ravens' final touchdown. Reed also recovered a fumble at the Steelers' 3 earlier in the game, returning it 32 yards.

While his numbers don't approach 2004, and aren't even as good as 2003, when he had seven picks and returned one for a touchdown, Reed is clearly among the reasons why the Ravens lead the NFL in interceptions with 28 and are second only to the Chicago Bears in forcing turnovers with 40.

"If you're going to start with a team, and you're going to take one safety, you're going to take Ed Reed, it's not even close," Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "He's a big hitter; he makes great breaks on the football; he's a blitzer; he supports the run."

Former Baltimore Colts safety Bruce Laird, who was an All-Pro as a rookie in 1972 and regularly attends Ravens games in his job with an NFL licensing company, has seen Reed evolve from a player who got by solely on instincts and athletic ability to one who has become more technically sound.


"He lines up where he's supposed to. I believe he knows exactly where he is on the field at all times," Laird said while watching Reed play the regular-season finale against the Buffalo Bills on Dec. 31. "Does he take chances? Absolutely, all the great ones do. Some are flat-out WAGs."


"Wild ass guess," Laird said. "He's done a little waggin' in his day and it's cost him, it has cost his football team. A lot of times he goes with gut instincts and comes up with big plays."

If there has been a criticism of Reed's game, it's that he still on occasion guesses wrong and gets burned by play-action fakes or trick plays.

It happened this season when Carolina's Steve Smith beat Reed for a 72-yard game-winning touchdown in a 23-21 defeat Oct. 15 -the Ravens' only home loss - or when Reed fell for a flea-flicker against Cincinnati that resulted in a 40-yard score by T.J. Houshmandzadeh in a 13-7 loss on Nov. 30.

Said Reed: "You understand your weaknesses and what's best for the team or where you should be. My position as far as safety is to make sure nothing gets over our head. It's understanding that I don't have to make every play. That's why we have so many more turnovers, it's us as a collective group versus just one guy."


Collective effort

The resurgence of cornerback Chris McAlister, who leads the Ravens with six interceptions, and the emergence of first-year strong safety Dawan Landry, whose five picks tied Reed's rookie team record, has allowed Reed to take fewer risks than he used to.

"Now we're talking about patience again, understanding where we're at as a team and what we need to get accomplished," Reed said. "With that understanding, I just play the game that we all are playing as a team. We're just communicating. You know exactly where you're supposed to be, what you're supposed to do. With that happening, you're going to make plays."

Veteran cornerback Samari Rolle knew when he joined the Ravens last season that he wasn't seeing the same player in Reed that he did in Rolle's seven years in Tennessee. It has been a different situation this season.

"We're better any time [No.] 20 is back there," Rolle said. "Everybody is just starting to see that he's back. I don't think he ever really went anywhere, but now with Dawan's presence, he can really cut it loose."

Landry said that having a player such as Reed covering for some of his rookie mistakes has helped him develop more quickly than many expected from a fifth-round pick taking over after Will Demps left as a free agent.


"He's been real beneficial to me, personally," said Landry, who at 6 feet and 220 pounds reminds some of a slightly bigger version of the 5-11, 200-pound Reed. "He's like an extra coach out there when I'm out there on the field."

If Lewis remains the heart of Baltimore's top-rated defense, Reed is at least its soul.

Whether Reed can evolve into the kind of emotional leader Lewis has become during his career is still up for debate, even to Lewis.

"A playmaker is a playmaker, that's totally different than a general," Lewis said. "Ed's a hell of a playmaker. Ed's going to lead by example. It's totally different when you talk about a general, and that's what Ed understands."

Reed agrees with the assessment from his fellow Miami Hurricane - to a point.

"When I first got here, I understood what I was coming to and how everyone expected me to be," Reed said. "Anytime something needs to be said, I say it. When that time comes [for him to be the leader], it comes. But I'm not going to change just because someone's here or because they're gone. My best leadership is me being an example and doing the right thing."


That has happened this season, especially in the past month. Reed is healthy, the Ravens are winning and his reputation has been restored. After what he hopes to be a run to the Super Bowl - a homecoming of sorts since it will be played in Miami - Reed will be headed to Hawaii for another Pro Bowl.

He has already heard that others, most notably Kerry Rhodes of the New York Jets, were more deserving, that Reed got by on the equity he built during his first three seasons with the Ravens than on what he did this season.

"I said when the Pro Bowl came up, there's so much going on and how political it is," Reed said. "It's great to have individual accolades and achievements, but it's a team game. That's a part that can easily blind you on the big picture, the team part. I don't pay it no mind."

Only to the little scrap of paper taped to his locker, its words resonating in Reed's head.