They sit next to each other in every defensive meeting and occupy back-to-back rows on team charter flights. But even when Bernard Pollard and Ed Reed go their separate ways for the day, the Ravens' two starting safeties likely haven't heard the last from each other.
Watching film of the coming opponent later that night, Pollard will notice a play or formation — or just have a random thought about life — and text his first-year teammate to trigger a discussion.
Reed will respond with his thoughts or just playfully tell Pollard to "lose my number."
"We're always communicating, always talking, always having fun," Pollard said. "Whether it's football or life, he always has something to say. He's been through a lot. I've been through a lot. But nobody cares about our stories. Everybody cares about how we perform. Just to be able to play next to him is honestly one of the best things I've been through in my life. I just know that I have another person in the safety position who is accountable to himself and who is going to do everything he can to help the team out. You can't beat that."
Pollard, a 26-year-old strong safety who signed a two-year deal with the Ravens in August, is an aggressive hitter aptly nicknamed "The Bonecrusher." Reed, 33, is a ball-hawking playmaker whom longtime football observers consider one of the best free safeties to play in the NFL.
The two have teamed up to anchor a secondary that has held opponents to just 200.8 passing yards per game, the fifth-lowest total in the NFL. They'll have a chance to lower that number Sunday against the Cleveland Browns and their struggling young quarterback, Colt McCoy.
"They're not as different as you might think," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of his pair of safeties. "I think Bernard has really learned our system, coverage-wise, and has been a very solid coverage guy for us. Not the Ed Reed-style, obviously, but a solid coverage guy. And then Ed, he's always been more physical than people give him credit for, but he's not a Bernard Pollard-type of box hitter. So I just think they complement each other very well because they're both very good players [and] they talk all the time."
Pollard, who often acts as an extra linebacker in Chuck Pagano's defense, is tied for third on the team with 53 tackles to go along with two sacks, six passes defended and three forced fumbles. Reed, in his accustomed position of reading and reacting to quarterbacks, has 39 tackles, one sack, three interceptions, eight passes defended and one forced fumble.
Though the two safeties have different playing styles, they have developed a bond rooted in shared characteristics, including a strong devotion to studying and analyzing game film, a willingness to be vocal with teammates and opponents, and an insistence on communicating and preparing the right way — and having fun while they're doing it.
"It's just that camaraderie that we have," Reed said, adding that his relationship with Pollard is similar to ones he shared with former Ravens safeties Dawan Landry and Jim Leonhard. "Being safeties that play together, that communication is constant. Bernard and Dawan and Jimmy kind of remind me of each other because they're constantly taking notes. They constantly want to know what's going on, what checks that we need to make, and they understand it. They understand that this game is more mental than physical.
"They can run, they can tackle, they can do all those things. They have those attributes, but if you don't know what you're doing on the football field and what checks you need to make, especially as a safety, you'll be shocked. Not to toot my own horn, but with a guy like myself helping them and trying to give them as much as possible, I would hope that they would perform, and they do. Every last one of them has come in here and made a name for themselves."
Pollard made a career-high 111 tackles and forced four fumbles last season for the Houston Texans, but he was maligned for his coverage skills for the league's last-ranked passing defense. This season, Pagano, the Ravens' first-year defensive coordinator, has catered to his strengths, pushing him closer to the line of scrimmage to help in defending the run, sending him in on blitzes and finding coverage matchups suited to his speed and size.
Reed's presence behind him, along with the solid play of cornerbacks Lardarius Webb and Cary Williams, has given Pollard leeway to do what he does best.
"The way I look at it is Ed is the best free safety to ever play this game," Pollard said. "Where I come into it is I'm physical, I know and understand the game. We sit right next to each other in meetings, and every chance that we get, we're communicating with each other, communicating with a lot of other guys to get things done. You can't take away from what he's done in this league and what he's continuing to do. This guy is phenomenal in every aspect of the game. He has put his body through the test, and he's went in and won."
Pollard didn't make his first start until Week 4 against the New York Jets as Tom Zbikowski had been starting opposite Reed. But that didn't stop Pollard from speaking up in meetings and questioning why certain defenses were called. That didn't stop him from dropping by the offices of coaches to try to gain a better understanding of the defensive playbook. And that certainly hasn't stopped him from peppering Reed, known for his extensive film study habits, with a host of questions.
"Immediately right after the game we play, Ed is on film to the next game," Pollard said. "It's just one of those things where I know he's on it. I'll text him and say, 'What do you see? What is going on here? What's going on there?' For me, one of the big things that I tend to study is the run game first because in the 4-3 system, I'm part of it and in this system I'm not. Ed is strictly pass; he knows and understands what the running back is doing, he knows and understands where the pass game is. I'm run game first, and then I'm there. And when I go to the pass game, Ed is already there. I get so much feedback from him, it's insane."
Pollard's presence hasn't changed Reed's role. He is still the center fielder of the Ravens' defense, roaming sideline-to-sideline and looking to make plays. His interceptions are down this season — "It's been hard getting picks when nobody is taking chances my way," Reed said — but he has also taken opportunities to move closer to the line of scrimmage and burst through to stop a running back, or even come off the edge on a safety blitz.
Pollard said the two will occasionally decide on the fly to switch things up or make adjustments, but they are hardly rash decisions. They are ones rooted in countless conversations and text exchanges throughout the week.
"They're doing a great job," Pagano said. "Bernard, he loves being down near the action and in the box and in the run game. And the amount of time that he's getting on defense, he's becoming more comfortable with the scheme. They're able to change it up, move it around and try to confuse the quarterback. So I think him playing deep some and then down in the box and Ed changing things when we bring in three-safety schemes, it's been really good. It's only getting better, too."