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WESTMINSTER — Ed Reed’s mood didn’t match his black T-shirt.
A year after a season where he bristled over communication issues that contributed to the NFL’s top-ranked defense becoming susceptible to deep passes, the Baltimore Ravens’ Pro Bowl safety was smiling after practice Tuesday morning at McDaniel College.
However, the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year still isn’t entirely content.
Wearing a T-shirt with a message that read, "What’s higher than No. 1?," in a reference to last year’s defensive ranking, Reed is challenging himself and the secondary to do a much better job of sharing information and working together.
"We have a lot of things we can get better on, and communication is definitely one that you have to stay up on because those are the small things that we messed up on last year," Reed said. "We gave up touchdowns that we shouldn’t have given up."
Although Reed intercepted five passes last season and outdueled Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning with an additional two interceptions in a playoff loss at M&T Bank Stadium, there were a handful of games where he wasn’t always where he was supposed to be.
On a deep pass to Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith, cornerback Samari Rolle, a frequent target for quarterbacks and criticism last season, thought he was releasing Smith to Reed. However, Reed was nowhere near the play and the busted assignment led directly to a 72-yard touchdown.
There were other instances, though, where Reed didn’t provide enough assistance over the top to Rolle, a former Pro Bowl cornerback who dealt with confidence and foot issues throughout last year.
During the second half of the season, the Ravens’ defensive backfield settled down and improved markedly.
Reed struck a chord of accountability when asked where he could improve personally heading into his sixth NFL season.
"Just helping my teammates out," he said. "Getting better at my techniques and not going backward on the things I’ve learned up to this point."
Up to this stage of his career, there isn’t much that Reed hasn’t accomplished. He’s been selected to three Pro Bowls, intercepting a career-high nine passes in 2004. He’s the Ravens’ all-time interception leader with 27, returning them for 750 yards and three touchdowns.
He holds the NFL single-season record with 358 interception return yards in 2004, including a 106-yard return for a touchdown against the Cleveland Browns for the longest interception return in NFL history.
And he’s blocked four punts, returning three for touchdowns to tie another NFL mark.
Reed has also built a reputation for diligently studying game film to memorize offensive tendencies.
"He’s a tremendous leader, and he’s a student of the game," linebacker Bart Scott said. "I think the guys like Dawan Landry and the young guys that are out there who aspire to be like Ed Reed one day are really learning from his communication and knowledge of football."
Respect from his teammates isn’t in short supply. What Reed, 27, doesn’t own is a Super Bowl ring.
The feeling around the Ravens is that, as good as Reed is, he’s capable of even more.
"The hard thing with Ed is he’s been so good for so long, you think he’s 35 and he’s been here forever because he was good from Jump St.," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "You don’t realize just how young he really is. So, I’m sure there’s still some upside, but it’s kind of scary if he ever taps into it because he’s pretty good right now."
It was just five years ago when Reed reported to training camp after a week-long holdout. Returning to Westminster tends to spark memories.
"It still seems like it was yesterday for me," Reed said. "When we come back to training camp, I always feel like a rookie."
Although older now, one aspect of Reed’s game hasn’t changed and isn’t liable to be altered anytime soon. Ever since Reed started playing football growing up in St. Rose, La., he has been prone to gamble on the football field, betting on his instincts to impact games.
Most of the time, Reed’s calculated risks pay off. The tradeoff, though, is what can happen when the aggressive defensive back guesses wrong.
It’s a balancing act Reed intends to continue pulling off.
"I play with instincts," Reed said. "I’m never going to change my game or how I play. At the same time, I play within the defense and choose when and when not to go and make a play."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.