It seems only fitting that Ozzie Newsome would get to see longtime Ravens safety Ed Reed get nominated for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
In 23 years as the architect of this franchise, Newsome, who recently stepped down as general manager, has already seen his first two draft picks, offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden and middle linebacker Ray Lewis, adorn the famed gold jackets and enter the prestigious hall.
Reed almost certainly will become the third by the time voting is completed this weekend. Newsome already has a special place for Reed.
“Here is my summation of Ed Reed,” said Newsome, the former Cleveland Browns tight end who was selected to the Hall of Fame as a player in 1999. “You can take the terms ‘game-changer’ and ‘difference-maker’ and put them next to each other, and then put in a picture of Ed Reed.”
Like many others, Newsome expects Reed to be elected on his first ballot Saturday night in Atlanta, the site of Super Bowl LIII, because of his body of work, which included 12 years in the NFL, 11 with the Ravens.
Reed was named to the Pro Bowl nine times and was selected first team All-Pro on five occasions. He was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2004 and led the league in interceptions in 2004, 2008 and 2010.
His 1,590 interception returns yards are still an NFL record, as well as his 107-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles in 2008.
As a mentor, the GM and a fan, Newsome might be expected to have an opinion about the greatest games Reed ever played. But that’s not the case.
“You probably could take four or five seasons and make a highlight film of Ed on the way he impacted games,” said Newsome. “There would be clips of tipped passes, blocked punts, interceptions, punt returns, whatever. …He was a game-changer in so many ways.”
In fact, that’s what Newsome saw in Reed the first time he watched film of him as a safety with the Miami Hurricanes. Team scouts had told him to keep an eye on Reed, but he didn’t stand out because there were a lot of top players on that team, including cornerbacks Phillip Buchanon and Mike Rumph.
But then came crunch time.
“That team had a lot of first-rounders on it,” Newsome said. “Ed was playing the deep middle, and I never saw anything until there was a play that needed to be made, in crunch time or on third down.
“Then darn, he’d show up. All he did was make plays, especially when needed the most.”
Despite what Newsome saw on film, he was leery of Reed, like most other NFL teams, because Reed didn’t post a fast 40-yard dash time. For skilled players in the NFL, that’s a near fatal flaw.
The Ravens had the 24th overall pick in the 2002 draft, and Newsome tried to trade back when the Ravens were on the clock, but couldn’t. He had a choice of two cornerbacks and Reed.
The rest is history.
“When you are picking at 24, you’re probably not going to get a great player,” Newsome said. “We like to say it’s going to be a good player, but one with a hole in him. Ed ran a slow 40 time, and his speed didn’t match up with the way he played.
“We were sitting there hoping to trade back, but we couldn’t and were locked in. At that point, I decided I was going to take the football player and I turned the card in on Ed Reed.”
And then the rest became Hall of Fame history.
Reed intercepted 64 passes throughout his career and knocked down 139. He forced 11 fumbles and had nine postseason interceptions, an NFL record in which he is tied with three others.
Until the end of his career, Reed was one of the league’s most consistent and top tacklers, and he finished with 643. Reed was only listed at 5 feet 11 and 205 pounds, but his technique was excellent.
He also constantly studied game tape, which allowed him to put his teammates in the proper position.
As for Reed, he was the lone ranger. He did his own thing, but most of the time his instincts were correct. Great players make those around them play better, and fellow safeties such as Dawan Landry and Will Demps got big second contracts playing next to Reed.
“Ed’s game was predicated off his studies,” Newsome said. “He just had the instincts of knowing where he needed to be when the ball was snapped. He helped the cornerbacks to identify certain routes and what the quarterback was thinking.”
“Ed put others in position to make plays,” added Newsome, laughing. “Now, is he going to be in the middle of the field where he was supposed to be? Sometimes he was, sometimes he wasn’t, because no one knew what Ed was seeing.”
His guess work irritated former coaches Brian Billick and John Harbaugh at times, but great players are given that liberty.
“You can’t harness those instincts, the smarts, the playmaking ability because you can’t coach that,” Newsome said of Reed. “You can try all you want to, but you can’t. You don’t become a great player by playing scared.”
It takes a special kind of coach to understand Reed. He was moody and aloof at times. He usually wore a hooded sweatshirt around The Castle. When the hood was up, it was not a good day to speak to Reed. When it was down, he couldn’t be quiet.
Reed had no problem letting anyone know how he felt. Maybe the one thing that might have been overlooked the most about him was his care for other people that were less fortunate than him.
Reed didn’t seek fame.
“From the first day of practice, Ed would be back there, looking lackadaisical, and have three interceptions,” Newsome said. “He was a range guy, and Bill Belichick had it right when he said, ‘When you play the Ravens, you better know where Ed Reed is all the time.’
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“Ed would speak his mind, but was never disrespectful in the process. You could communicate with him, discuss things, and sometimes I would agree with him, or other times he would do it our way because he was a team guy. He has a big heart. I think he is more comfortable in that environment than being around successful people.”