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Better for Reed to get coaching feet wet elsewhere

Posted on 14 January 2016 by Luke Jones

Former Ravens great Ed Reed may become a “phenomenal” coach as Rex Ryan predicted upon hiring him to join the Buffalo Bills staff as his assistant defensive backs coach on Wednesday.

But a Hall of Fame playing career doesn’t guarantee that he’ll be a successful coach as players in multiple sports have learned. That’s why it’s better for Reed to get his coaching feet wet elsewhere before potentially joining the Ravens staff down the line.

Even if many Ravens fans don’t like it.

Coincidentally, Reed is indirectly replacing Buffalo assistant Donnie Henderson, who was his first defensive backs coach in Baltimore and has been with eight different teams since then. It’s a reminder of the frequent turnover in the profession with many coaching changes coming in the form of termination.

It would be an awkward position for the Ravens to fire one of the best players in franchise history should he not have what it takes to be a coach. In Buffalo, fans won’t be sentimental about an assistant coach who had a Hall of Fame career in Baltimore if Ryan would need to let him go in a year or two.

Reed will be able to fly under the radar more with the Bills as he learns the craft.

How would Ravens fans react if Reed were their secondary coach and the group struggled mightily? Many fans couldn’t name Baltimore’s secondary coaches right now — Chris Hewitt and Matt Weiss — but everyone would know one of the best players in franchise history would hold the job.

The 37-year-old gaining valuable experience elsewhere first is a better plan for success.

There are also still some remnants of Reed’s playing career in Baltimore as coaches and remaining players remember the mercurial safety who wasn’t always the most coachable talent and even skipped mandatory minicamp in his final season with the Ravens. As unpredictable as he could be on the field, that same trait followed him off the field as well.

It may just be too soon.

This isn’t to suggest there’s a rift — many fans immediately concluded that Reed must be on poor terms with John Harbaugh if he’s going to work for Ryan instead — but the memories of Reed as a player are still fresh, which could have made for an awkward transition in the present. That said, Reed’s affinity for Ryan makes it unsurprising that the nine-time Pro Bowl selection would want to work with his former defensive coordinator, who was also the final head coach of his playing career with the New York Jets in 2013.

Every great player who transitions to coaching faces the challenge of relating to players who will lack the same talents and desire to be great. Reed has exceptional football intellect and has rightly been praised for mentoring younger teammates late in his career, but he was ultimately still the one in control on the field come Sunday.

The chances that Reed took — some wiser than others — because of his incredible range and ball skills will not be in play for the less-talented defensive backs he will coach. Ultimately, he’ll be the one accountable for getting them ready to play, but those players simply won’t be able to do things the same way that Reed did and he’ll need to recognize and embrace that reality to succeed.

If Reed proves capable and enjoys the extensive commitment needed to be an NFL coach — he only coached flag football for kids this past year — the Ravens should welcome the future Hall of Fame safety with open arms.

But it’s better for everyone that he begins his coaching career elsewhere.

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Ravens legend Ed Reed becoming NFL assistant coach

Posted on 13 January 2016 by Luke Jones

Future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed has mentioned a desire to coach on more than one occasion, and a former Ravens defensive coordinator is giving him the opportunity.

The Buffalo Bills announced Wednesday that the longtime Ravens safety will join Rex Ryan’s staff as the assistant defensive backs coach. Ryan served as Reed’s defensive coordinator from 2005-2008 and was his final head coach when the safety joined the New York Jets midway through the 2013 season, his final year in the NFL.

Reed officially announced his retirement last year and was inducted into the Ravens’ Ring of Honor at M&T Bank Stadium in November. He is eligible for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame after the 2018 season.

“Ed Reed is going to be such a great asset to our team,” Ryan said in a statement released by the Bills. “Obviously, he’s played in this system and been an MVP-caliber guy in this system. He’s going to be such a great asset for players. He’s a real student of the game as well and he’s going to be a phenomenal coach.”

The 37-year-old has never coached before and didn’t always have the smoothest relationship with his many coaches through the years, but he took on more of a mentoring role with young Ravens teammates late in his playing career, drawing praise from the likes of Lardarius Webb and Cary Williams for making them better players. Reed will try to help improve a Buffalo pass defense that ranked 19th in the NFL in 2015.

The nine-time Pro Bowl selection was famous for his ability to study opponents and dissect plays, traits that were cultivated by longtime teammate and future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis when Reed entered the league in 2002.

“Having spent time with Ed in Baltimore and then New York, I can attest to the incredibly high level of professionalism he is going to bring with him to Buffalo,” Ryan said. “He’s going to teach guys how he studies film, bring the guys along, and add so much in that way.”

Reed will have the chance to coach one of his former teammates in the Baltimore secondary as Corey Graham will be entering his third year with Buffalo.

With Ryan already hiring twin brother Rob to be his new assistant head coach earlier this month, you would think HBO would be salivating at the prospects of featuring the Bills in their annual “Hard Knocks” series this summer. Buffalo is among the teams eligible to be selected this year.

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Ravens thoughts on Aiken, Pittsburgh, injuries, Pro Bowl

Posted on 22 December 2015 by Luke Jones

Kamar Aiken is one of the last men standing in the Ravens offense.

In a lost season on so many levels, the Central Florida product has established himself as a productive NFL receiver and an important piece moving forward. His 62 catches for 802 yards — already the 24th-highest single-season receiving yardage total in franchise history — and five touchdowns would make for a good season without accounting for the two games he still has to add to those totals.

In the six games since Steve Smith suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in Week 8, Aiken has caught 37 passes for 469 yards and three touchdowns. Those numbers put the 6-foot-2 receiver on pace for a 98-catch, 1,250-yard season over a full 16 games. Of course, the Ravens currently don’t have a whole lot besides Aiken in terms of viable pass-catching targets — Torrey Smith’s production similarly ballooned in 2013 — but he’s also played with three different quarterbacks including the last two games with Jimmy Clausen, who’s been with Baltimore for all of a month.

It’s been impressive work from the former practice-squad receiver who had never made an NFL reception before last season. But Aiken’s emergence shouldn’t make general manager Ozzie Newsome feel he’s set at wide receiver this offseason.

Reports persist that Steve Smith is likely to return if his rehabilitation goes well, but he will also be 37 next year and coming off a serious injury that impacts explosiveness. It’d be foolish to doubt such a fierce competitor’s desire to return and be productive in 2016, but expecting him to come back as a No. 1 option like nothing ever happened would be unrealistic — and unfair.

Breshad Perriman will be back, but the Ravens haven’t seen their 2015 first-round pick play as much as a snap in a preseason game. He will need to prove his knee is healthy and that he can contribute as an NFL wide receiver before anyone signs off on him as the No. 1 receiver of the future.

With a plethora of needs on both sides of the ball, the Ravens may not need to draft a receiver in the first round this spring, but another wideout should firmly be on Newsome’s radar in the first few rounds of the draft. Otherwise, Baltimore will once again enter a season with too many questions at a position that’s been an Achilles heel for much of the 20-year history of the franchise.

At the very least, Aiken is shaping up to be a dependable possession receiver — a poor man’s Anquan Boldin — and the one commodity at the position that the Ravens can really trust while shaping their 2016 roster this offseason.

Bracing for Pittsburgh

Based on the number of Seattle and Kansas City fans that made their way to M&T Bank Stadium over the last two weeks, Steelers fans may make Sunday’s game feel like it’s being played at Heinz Field, which would be a disheartening conclusion to a home schedule that has already included five losses — most in franchise history.

I’ll never judge fans for selling their tickets — personal seat licenses and season tickets are a heck of a financial commitment for mere entertainment — but you’d like to see Ravens fans protect their home turf against their biggest rival if at all possible. I wrote about this topic earlier this season, but I also won’t fault fans trying to make some money around the holiday season as the injury-ravaged hometown team is barely recognizable at this point.

To add insult to injury, the Steelers can clinch a playoff spot with a win and a New York Jets loss against New England on Sunday. And, oh yeah, Pittsburgh has scored 30 or more points in six straight games and will be facing a pass defense that has offered little resistance all season.

Optimists will call it a rivalry game in which anything can happen, but it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea for Ravens fans to brace themselves for it to get ugly two days after Christmas.

Injury excuse

With the preseason feel of recent games that have followed the loss of quarterback Joe Flacco, the narrative surrounding the 2015 Ravens — particularly from a national perspective — now centers around their numerous injuries.

Tight end Crockett Gillmore became the 21st Ravens player to officially be lost to a season-ending injury when he was placed on injured reserve with a back ailment on Monday, but many of the significant names on that list went down after the season was already in the dumpster. Below is a look at the Ravens’ Week 8 starting lineup when they sported a 1-6 record and welcomed San Diego to Baltimore:

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My point?

Injuries are certainly part of the story — particularly the early losses of Terrell Suggs and Perriman — but don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that’s the only — or even the most — significant explanation for the team’s failures this year. It was apparent early in the season that a number of problems unrelated to injuries contributed to this nightmare season.

The loss of players like Flacco, Smith, and Justin Forsett merely turned a lost year into a punchline with players now on the field whom fans have needed to google on a weekly basis.

Pro Bowl picks

The NFL will announce its Pro Bowl selections Tuesday night and while no Ravens players won the fan vote, coaches and players account for two-thirds of the voting.

My picks would be guard Marshal Yanda, defensive tackle Brandon Williams, and punter Sam Koch.

Yanda has shown no signs of slowing down as he should be in line for his fifth straight Pro Bowl invitation. Meanwhile, Williams has proven himself as the top run-stopping nose tackle in the NFL and has steadily received more praise around the league this season, leading you to believe he has a solid chance to have his name called. But even as Haloti Ngata learned several years ago, players are sometimes deserving of the Pro Bowl a year or two before they are finally recognized to go.

I’m pulling for Koch to finally earn a trip to the Pro Bowl as he is leading the NFL in net punting for the second straight year and is the longest-tenured Ravens player behind only Suggs. Now in his 10th season in Baltimore, Koch has routinely been one of the better punters in the NFL and has brought innovation to the position that should be recognized with a trip to Honolulu.

Interception perspective

Not only do the Ravens rank last in the NFL with just four interceptions, but 10 players around the league have more than four this season. The previous franchise low for interceptions in a season was 11 set in 2005 and matched last season.

Future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed collected more than four picks in a season seven different times in his career.

Baltimore has just one interception in its last 11 games.

Where have you gone, Ravens defense of old?

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Five numbers behind Ravens’ 19-13 loss in Denver

Posted on 15 September 2015 by Luke Jones

Every week, we’ll ponder five numbers stemming from the Ravens’ latest game, this one being the ugly 19-13 loss to Denver to begin the 2015 season …

3.66 — Joe Flacco’s yards per attempt
Skinny: The pass protection was awful and his pass-catching targets were unable to create separation, making it no surprise that the eighth-year quarterback couldn’t throw the ball down the field. This was Flacco’s worst yards per attempt average since a loss in Houston on Oct. 21, 2012 (3.42) and the third-worst mark of his NFL regular-season career. His worst overall came in the 2009 playoff win over New England when a banged-up Flacco went 4-for-10 for 34 yards, a 3.40 average.

9 — Total catches made by Ravens receivers and tight ends
Skinny: Many expressed concerns over Flacco’s group of young receivers and tight ends, and Sunday proved to be a nightmare as even Steve Smith managed just two catches for 13 yards and couldn’t bring in the potential game-winning touchdown on the Ravens’ penultimate play of the game. Fellow starter Kamar Aiken was even worse as he lost a yard on his only reception. With or without rookie Breshad Perriman, this group needs to be markedly better for Baltimore to make any real noise this year.

27 — Consecutive games in which the Ravens defense hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher
Skinny: It was an impressive effort on the other side of the ball as the Ravens continued the longest active streak in the NFL of not allowing an opposing player to eclipse the century mark on the ground. With Brandon Williams dominating the line of scrimmage and C.J. Mosley and Daryl Smith at the inside linebacker spots, the Ravens have to like their chances to keep this streak going. Meanwhile, the Broncos will need to average much better than 2.8 yards per carry to help Peyton Manning’s deteriorating arm.

56 — Yards of offense from Justin Forsett
Skinny: The 2014 Pro Bowl running back didn’t have much of a chance behind a less-than-stellar performance from the offensive line, but his output was lower than all but two of his regular-season games a year ago. Forsett’s numbers would have been even worse if not for his 20-yard run on the final drive of the game. With Buck Allen showing some promise in limited opportunities and Lorenzo Taliaferro possibly returning this Sunday, it will be interesting to see how the carries are distributed.

291 — Consecutive games (counting the postseason) in which Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, or Terrell Suggs has been on the field for Baltimore
Skinny: The 2015 opener brought the unfortunate end of a remarkable run in franchise history with Suggs suffering a season-ending Achilles injury in the fourth quarter. This Sunday will mark the first time that the Ravens will play a game without any of the three best defensive players in their history since Oct. 11, 1998 when Eric Zeier was the quarterback and they lost 12-8 to the Tennessee Oilers as Lewis sat out with a dislocated elbow. Nothing lasts forever, but it’s strange thinking about the old guard of Baltimore defense that also included Haloti Ngata being no more — at least until next year.

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From Griese to Tannehill: Ed Reed’s career of interceptions

Posted on 08 May 2015 by Luke Jones

Nine-time Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed did it all, but the interception is what he’ll most be remembered for in his 12-year NFL career.

He walks away ranked sixth on the all-time list with 64 interceptions in the regular season. His nine postseason picks are tied for first with three others — Charlie Waters, Bill Simpson, and Ronnie Lott — on the career list.

He led the NFL in interceptions three times (2004, 2008, and 2010) and twice led the league in interception return yards (2004 and 2010).

His 1,590 interception yards in the regular season are the most in NFL history while he added 168 more in the playoffs. Putting those together, Reed fell just two yards shy of a full mile in interception return yardage for his career.

In total, 46 passers — a full active roster on game day — were intercepted by the 2002 first-round pick from the University of Miami. Of that group, half went to a Pro Bowl at least once in their careers and six were starting quarterbacks to win a Super Bowl.

Only Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay, Minnesota, and New Orleans avoided throwing an interception against Reed. He never played a game against the Bears — he was injured for contests against them in 2005 and 2009 — and all of those teams except the Ravens played in the NFC.

Reed was right in expressing his love for Cleveland quarterbacks during his retirement press conference as his 12 interceptions against the Browns were his highest total against any team, but he also plagued Cincinnati 10 times. Pittsburgh came in third, but only three of those six interceptions came against Ben Roethlisberger despite nearly a decade of battles between the Steelers quarterback and the Ravens safety.

Brian Griese was the first interception victim when Reed was 24 and Ryan Tannehill was the last in the 35-year-old Reed’s final game in 2013.

Reed’s final interception in a Ravens uniform came against Colin Kaepernick in Super Bowl XLVII, the night he’d raise the Vince Lombardi Trophy for the only time in his career.

A 41-year-old Vinny Testaverde was the oldest quarterback on which the intercepting Reed preyed.

Brian St. Pierre was the most obscure to be victimized as he was picked off by Reed in his only NFL start.

Former New York Jets running back LaMont Jordan was the only non-quarterback to be intercepted by the ball-hawking free safety. It came during Reed’s 2004 Defensive Player of the Year season, and a holding penalty wiped out what would have been a 104-yard return for a touchdown on the play.

Carson Palmer threw the most interceptions (six) against Reed, but the future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning tossed the highest number (three) in the playoffs. It was a family affair for the Manning brothers as Eli was intercepted once by Reed in 2004.

Three quarterbacks — Roethlisberger, Charlie Batch, and Jason Campbell — went five years in between throwing interceptions to Reed.

Campbell and Griese were Reed’s only victims to throw interceptions playing for two different teams. Campbell was the only quarterback that Reed intercepted both as a Raven and as a Jet.

Derek Anderson was the only passer to be intercepted by Reed in three straight seasons.

And even though they once played together in Philadelphia, Jeff Garcia and Kevin Kolb will forever be linked for throwing record-setting interceptions to the incomparable safety. Reed returned a Garcia interception 106 yards for a touchdown in 2004 and ran one back 107 yards for a score against Kolb in 2008. They are the two longest interception returns in NFL history.

In all, 73 interceptions and a Hall of Fame career no one in Baltimore will ever forget.

Passers who threw interceptions to Reed (including postseason)
1) Carson Palmer – 6
2) Peyton Manning – 4 (three in postseason)
3) Kelly Holcomb – 3
4) Derek Anderson – 3
5) Ben Roethlisberger – 3
6) Jason Campbell – 3
7) Tom Brady – 2 (one in postseason)
8) Chad Pennington – 2 (both in postseason)
9) Brian Griese – 2
10) Jon Kitna – 2
11) Ryan Fitzpatrick – 2
12) Andy Dalton – 2
13) Colt McCoy – 2
14) David Garrard – 2
15) Trent Green – 2
16) Charlie Batch – 2
17) Tony Romo – 2
18) Steve McNair – 1 (postseason)
19) T.J. Yates – 1 (postseason)
20) Jeff Garcia – 1
21) Kevin Kolb – 1
22) Trent Dilfer – 1
23) Colin Kaepernick – 1 (postseason)
24) Gus Frerotte – 1
25) Donovan McNabb – 1
26) Michael Vick – 1
27) Matt Hasselbeck – 1
28) Kellen Clemens – 1
29) David Carr – 1
30) Drew Brees – 1
31) Chad Henne – 1
32) Ryan Tannehill – 1
33) Brandon Weeden – 1
34) Matt McGloin – 1
35) Jeff Blake – 1
36) Marc Bulger – 1
37) Vince Young – 1
38) Brian St. Pierre – 1
39) Tommy Maddox – 1
40) Drew Bledsoe – 1
41) Vinny Testaverde – 1
42) Chris Simms – 1
43) Charlie Frye – 1
44) Eli Manning – 1
45) Sage Rosenfels – 1
46) LaMont Jordan – 1

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Ed Reed always kept everyone on their toes

Posted on 07 May 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The only certainty about Ed Reed over the years was to be ready for just about anything.

Announcing his retirement after 12 NFL seasons — 11 with the Ravens — and speaking to the Baltimore media, the future Hall of Fame safety tossed a few more laterals and certainly didn’t disappoint during his farewell press conference.

“This is home. Baltimore, I love the city, I love this organization,” Reed said. “I hope that I did more than I was supposed to as a Raven, bigger than any contract could ever explain as a player.”

In discussing the ceremonial one-day contract he signed with general manager Ozzie Newsome, Reed revealed that he lobbied for a three-day contract or even one more season with the Ravens. He was joking, of course.

At least we think he was.

From honestly expressing his love playing against Cleveland’s many quarterbacks to awkwardly dropping a 4-20 reference, Reed covered it all in his 45-minute press conference that also featured Newsome, head coach John Harbaugh, and team president Dick Cass. He compared his early relationship with longtime teammate Ray Lewis to Mufasa and Simba from “The Lion King” and even worked in a final jab at the media for the perceived twisting of his words over the years.

It was just Ed being Ed, one of the greatest safeties in the history of the NFL and one of the most unique sports personalities Baltimore has ever seen.

Depending on the day of the week or even the hour in the day, Reed could be thoughtful or disinterested or cordial or surly with just about anyone. He was as likely to take a moment to introduce himself to a young and clueless media member covering his first training camp in Westminster as he was to grumpily walk by his closest teammates in the locker room without saying a word.

The only thing you knew about Reed — other than him being one of the best players in franchise history — was that you never knew. He liked it that way.

“I never thought about making it to the Hall of Fame,” said Reed, who is eligible for induction as soon as 2019. “I just wanted to be a great football player for my teammates. I was just studying and doing all that so that we could be our best. As everybody knows, this is a team sport, but an individual business. As an individual, I had to make sure I was taking care of my business.”

The 36-year-old says he hasn’t yet hung up his cleats despite announcing his retirement from the NFL as he continues to work out regularly and is currently busy coaching his 7-year-old son’s flag football team. Reed quipped that the latter experience doesn’t really make him want to be a coach, but he acknowledges that football is in his blood and has entertained thoughts of coaching at a higher level. This was evident late in his career when he quietly mentored the likes of Lardarius Webb, Cary Williams, and Jimmy Smith while Lewis received the spotlight as the leader of the Ravens.

Despite not enjoying talking to the media for much of his career, Reed opened up on Thursday.

He shed light on his passion for helping others, which has been evident through various charitable endeavors over the years and his adoption of Booker T. Washington Middle School in Baltimore early in his career. He spoke sincerely on the recent unrest in the city, emphasizing the need for youth to have sports and other positive avenues on which to focus beyond school.

Along with his nine Pro Bowl selections, 2004 AP Defensive Player of the Year award, and Super Bowl XLVII championship ring, Reed’s contributions in the community — here and in his home state of Louisiana — make him an easy choice to be officially inducted into the Ring of Honor on Nov. 22. Of course, a trip to Canton and the Pro Football Hall of Fame will follow.

“Deep commitment to the city of Baltimore,” said Cass, adding that Reed invited 26 Booker T. Washington students to every home game for over a decade in addition to the other contributions he made to the school. “The love that he felt for the city has been returned many times over by our fans and by the people in Baltimore who know that Ed is committed to the city. That deep commitment is returned to you in many ways.”

No, Reed didn’t have the storybook ending to his career in the same way Lewis did as he made the business decision to chase another payday with the Houston Texans. His final season with Houston and then the New York Jets was forgettable, but the 2002 first-round pick always moved to his own beat, even joking about his retirement as recently as April Fools’ Day last month.

Whether it was an ill-advised lateral on the field, the mixed signals about his contract and possible retirement in his later years, or the calculated and well-studied gambles that resulted in countless game-changing plays, Reed did things his way. No other player could provide you the full array of emotions in a matter of seconds, whether he was blocking a punt, recklessly flipping the ball to a teammate in heavy traffic, or intercepting a pass deep in his own end zone before sprinting the length of the field for a record-setting touchdown.

Everyone — coaches, teammates, media, and fans — was just along for the ride. And even if we rarely knew what was happening, what an exciting trip it was.

“When he told me later, yes,” said Harbaugh as he laughed when asked if he always knew what Reed was thinking on the field. “I was happy to hear about it.”

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Ed Reed to officially announce retirement on Thursday

Posted on 06 May 2015 by Luke Jones

After 12 NFL seasons, nine Pro Bowls, a Defensive Player of the Year award, and a Super Bowl trophy, future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed is officially calling it a career.

The Ravens will hold a 2 p.m. press conference Thursday to announce the 36-year-old’s retirement after he did not play during the 2014 season. Reed retires as one of the best players in franchise history and holds the franchise record of 61 interceptions before finishing his NFL career ranked sixth on the all-time list.

Owner Steve Bisciotti said earlier this year that Reed would be inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor at M&T Bank Stadium as soon as he officially retired from the NFL. Always an enigmatic figure during his time in Baltimore, Reed hinted that he was retiring as an April Fools’ Day joke last month before coming to his final decision.

Counting the postseason, the 2004 AP Defensive Player of the Year scored a remarkable 14 touchdowns during his career. Not only making an impact as a ball-hawking safety, Reed is the only player in NFL history to score touchdowns off an interception, blocked punt, punt return, and fumble recovery.

The 2002 first-round pick often lived in the shadow of linebacker Ray Lewis, but Reed finally tasted championship glory in his final game with Baltimore, securing an interception in the Ravens’ 34-31 victory over San Francisco in Super Bowl XLVII. Instead of retiring like Lewis, the University of Miami product elected to continue his career with the Houston Texans and the New York Jets during the 2013 season.

Reed was considered a great all-around player before suffering a nerve impingement in his neck and shoulder late in the 2007 season, an injury that hindered his tackling ability in the latter stages of his career. Despite Reed’s physical limitations, opposing quarterbacks were forced to continue to account for the game-changing free safety on every play as his preparation and knowledge of the game were second to none. When playing the Ravens, four-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady famously wrote on his wristband a telling message about Reed’s potential impact on any given game:

“Find 20 on every play.”

Reed finishes his career with 643 tackles, 64 interceptions, six sacks, 113 pass breakups, and 11 forced fumbles.

He will be eligible for induction in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2019, one year after Lewis.

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Thoughts on could-be, former, and never-were Ravens

Posted on 14 April 2015 by Luke Jones

The retirement of Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu last week revitalized an old debate of deciding between him or former Ravens safety Ed Reed as the best safety of this generation.

The split between the fan bases in Baltimore and Pittsburgh is obvious, but it’s difficult to compare players who brought such different skills to the table. Polamalu was superior against the run, but many forget how effectively Reed played closer to the line of scrimmage early in his career before a nerve impingement in his neck and shoulder hampered him physically. On the flip side, Reed was the superior ball hawk throughout their careers, but Polamalu wasn’t always the same liability in coverage that he became over the last few seasons of his 12-year career.

Sports Illustrated’s Peter King stirred up Ravens fans by deeming Polamalu the best playmaking and instinctive safety of this era. He’s certainly entitled to his opinion, but Reed’s ability to make plays as a safety, a punt blocker, and as an occasional punt returner was as good as any playmaker I’ve seen short of Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders. In his prime, Reed may have been the greatest free safety in the history of the NFL as his calculated gambles often turned games around for the offensively-challenged Ravens of the time.

I’d take Reed over Polamalu because of his home-run potential, but I would have been happy with either one.

Like King does in evaluating these two great safeties, I’ve been guilty of using the term instinctive, a word that sounds like a compliment but sells short the amount of preparation each player put into his craft. Yes, these are blessed athletes who often appear to have a sixth sense for the ball, but the game-changing plays each safety made were the result of hours of film study and their years of experience on the football field.

It’s worth noting that the Pro Football Hall of Fame hasn’t been kind to safeties historically, but I just don’t see that applying to Reed or Polamalu when they are eligible for induction. As two of the centerpieces in arguably the best rivalry in the NFL over the last 15 years, both received plenty of mainstream attention and each won an AP Defensive Player of the Year award (an honor awarded to a safety just five times in 44 years). Even if they aren’t first-ballot guys — they should be, by the way — neither will wait long to receive the invitation to Canton.

Of course, Reed hasn’t officially retired, which is something with which he needs to come to terms. I’m always supportive of an athlete in his desire to play as long as he wants and to go out on his own terms, but the writing has been on the wall for nearly two years and no one wanted the nine-time Pro Bowl selection in 2014. It’s time for him to call it a career, which will allow the Ravens to induct him into their Ring of Honor this fall.

* After reports surfaced that the Ravens were among the teams showing the most interest in Michael Crabtree, the free-agent wide receiver came to terms on a one-year deal to join the Oakland Raiders Monday night.

The news wasn’t surprising as there were never any indications that Baltimore strongly coveted Crabtree, who was coming off a down season in San Francisco. Questions remain over his explosiveness and ability to separate from defenders following an Achilles injury two years ago, and he was never the type of burner that the Ravens currently need.

I’ll continue to remain skeptical of the organization’s ability to find a suitable replacement for Torrey Smith until it happens. The Ravens can talk up the likes of Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown, and Michael Campanaro as much as they want, but they need a receiver to stretch the field and take pressure off the soon-to-be 36-year-old Steve Smith. The current group alone won’t cut it.

* King again fired up fans in predicting that Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon wouldn’t make it past the Ravens with the 26th overall pick, but it wouldn’t be a shocking development given their everlasting commitment to the ground game.

Anyone who watched Gordon play in the Big Ten knows he has the potential to be a special back and Ravens running backs coach Thomas Hammock is very familiar with him after they worked together in Madison. A running back hasn’t been selected in the first round since 2012, but it appears there’s a good chance of that changing in the upcoming draft.

Would Gordon satisfy one of their biggest needs? No, but Justin Forsett will be 30 and isn’t a long-term solution at the position.

I personally would look to a number of running backs who would be attractive in the middle rounds, but coming away with Gordon wouldn’t be surprising or necessarily a bad thing for the Ravens.

* The latest news about former NFL running back Lawrence Phillips being suspected of killing his prison cellmate is another reminder of how lucky the Ravens were to come away with Hall of Fame left tackle Jonathan Ogden with the fourth overall pick of the 1996 draft.

Had he given into late owner Art Modell’s preference to have Phillips, Ozzie Newsome might not still be the general manager in Baltimore today. At the very least, it’d be difficult to argue that the Ravens would have still won Super Bowl XXXV in only their fifth season in Baltimore.

More than anything, the Ravens might want to thank the Arizona Cardinals for surprisingly taking Simeon Rice with the third pick that year, allowing Ogden to fall into Newsome’s lap.

As the Ravens now begin their 20th season in Baltimore, it’s still incredible to think that Newsome selected two future Hall of Famers — Ray Lewis went 26th overall later in the first round — with the first two draft picks in team history.

* Per Pro Football Talk, the NFL is set to release the 2015 regular-season schedule on April 23.

Considering we already know the Ravens’ opponents, the announcement always comes with too much hype, but it’s intriguing to find out which matchups land in prime time.

I’m only guessing, but I’ll predict that the Ravens play a Thursday night road game in Pittsburgh, a Monday night home game against Cincinnati, and a Sunday night home game against Seattle.

Which games would you like to see in prime time this year?

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Suggs applying tough lessons from last season to bounce back in 2014

Posted on 18 June 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs spent a decade chasing the elusive Super Bowl glory he finally tasted at the end of the 2012 season.

But he couldn’t have imagined how difficult it was going to be defending that championship following the retirement of Ray Lewis and the free-agent departure of Ed Reed, leaving the Ravens without two Hall of Fame players and leaders who were the heart and soul of the organization. Of course, a myriad of reasons explained an 8-8 season in which the Ravens missed the playoffs, ranging from a porous offensive line and nonexistent running game to an otherwise-solid defense that struggled to create turnovers and get off the field in the fourth quarter.

Suggs and his veteran teammates said all the right things last season when asked how they’d possibly replace the leadership void created by the departures of Lewis, Reed, and other veterans, claiming there were more than enough voices ready to handle the changes. But the 31-year-old linebacker acknowledged Wednesday it was not only “very agonizing” to miss the postseason for the first time since 2007 but also draining going through his first season without two men who’d been older brothers to him for the first 10 years of his career.

“I had those older guys around to build, and it was a period of adjustment,” Suggs said. “It was weird, and it transpired onto the field — not having those guys there. But, the most [important] thing we can learn from last year about those guys not being there is those were once-in-a-lifetime guys — Ed Reed and Ray Lewis — and all we can be is ourselves. They’re not going to come walking through the door to help us win another championship. All you can be is yourself, and that should be enough.”

Even though Suggs posted double-digit sacks for the fifth time in his career in 2013, his play down the stretch didn’t help the Ravens’ push for a sixth straight trip to the postseason as he collected only one sack in the final eight games, leading many to speculate he was playing hurt. His 10 sacks were enough to earn him his sixth invitation to the Pro Bowl, but his play against both the run and pass deteriorated at an alarming rate with four games in which he posted one or no tackles.

With the Ravens needing a win over the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 17 to sneak into the playoffs, Suggs and fellow pass-rusher Elvis Dumervil combined for one tackle and zero sacks in a 34-17 loss that resulted in the Ravens staying home in January. Asked to reflect on his up-and-down season at this week’s mandatory minicamp, Suggs didn’t hide behind what could have been the convenient excuse of saying he was hurt.

“One of the things was you get a little cold and you gain a little weight,” said Suggs about the second half of the season. “I probably put on a little too much weight down the stretch there. But that was one of my big focuses going into this year. Definitely, if I keep my weight down, I can have a strong finish. I think I was pretty much healthy.”

Head coach John Harbaugh went out of his way to praise Suggs for his conditioning level upon reporting to Owings Mills earlier this week. The veteran linebacker likes the changes made to both sides of the ball, citing the positive vibe created by the hiring of new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak.

The linebacker also complimented the free-agent signing of veteran wide receiver Steve Smith, who isn’t afraid to ruffle some feathers like he did during Wednesday’s practice when he got into a scuffle with cornerback Lardarius Webb. It’s the kind of attitude that was lacking on the offensive side of the ball last season following the trade of wide receiver Anquan Boldin.

“It’s good to have that. We had it a few years ago in 81,” Suggs said. “And it’s good to have that fire back on that side of the ball, [to] have somebody who will go out there and jab back with us and compete.”

In addition to acquiring Smith and a few other veterans such as center Jeremy Zuttah and tight end Owen Daniels, the Ravens spent a large portion of their offseason re-signing their own players, including a four-year contract extension for Suggs. The deal did provide short-term relief in lowering his 2014 salary cap figure from $12.4 million to $7.8 million, but general manager Ozzie Newsome made a $16 million gamble in guaranteed money that Suggs’ second half last season was more of an aberration than a preview of what’s to come for a linebacker entering his 12th season.

So, who is the real Suggs at this stage of his career? The man who looked like a Defensive Player of the Year candidate while accumulating nine sacks in the first eight games last year or the worn-down player who failed to set the edge against the run and provided little pressure on the quarterback down the stretch?

The truth is likely somewhere in the middle, but Suggs appears determined to prove he’s closer to the player he was in the first half of the 2013 season based on what kind of shape he was in upon arriving at the team facility this week. And he made it clear he’s recommitted to just being himself after struggling to adjust to life without Lewis or Reed for the first time in his NFL career.

“You’re going to always have something to prove when you’re playing this game,” Suggs said. “You never want to hit your cruising altitude; you always want to be ascending with your game. You can always get better.”

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Flacco offseason noise meaningless in big picture

Posted on 02 June 2014 by Luke Jones

In case you haven’t heard by now, quarterback Joe Flacco didn’t organize offseason workouts with teammates and has apparently doomed the Ravens’ 2014 season almost two months before training camp begins.

At least that’s what some might have you believe as critics have used this revelation to question the seventh-year quarterback’s commitment to the organization after the worst season of his career in 2013. Or, maybe it’s just the latest example of the overkill of NFL coverage when there simply aren’t enough topics of substance to discuss in the offseason.

I’ll take some level of responsibility for the overreaction to Flacco not organizing informal workouts with teammates after I initially asked Dennis Pitta in early March if he’d talked to his best friend on the team about the tight end’s new contract and whether they planned to get together with other teammates to throw in the offseason. It was a question stemming from sheer curiosity and an effort to spice up what was otherwise a relatively mundane press conference following the announcement of Pitta’s five-year, $32 million contract five days earlier.

The reaction snowballed from there as many used Pitta’s initial response as a springboard to criticize Flacco for not eating, breathing, and sleeping football for all hours of the day and all days of the year.

Truthfully, the outcome of Flacco and his teammates refraining from getting together does nothing to significantly move the meter on where the Ravens’ fate will fall during the 2014 season. Yes, an argument could be made that it could provide a stronger rapport away from the Owings Mills facility, but the lack of any working knowledge of new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s system as well as an inability to contact coaches would have resulted in little tangible productivity.

Flacco must play better than he did in 2013 as the quarterback acknowledged again last week that he did a poor job of protecting the football in throwing a career-high 22 interceptions for the league’s 29th-ranked offense. Should that improvement come, it will be about putting in extensive preparation with Kubiak and taking advantage of better offensive personnel.

If he plays well in 2014, no one will remember that Flacco didn’t toss around the football with teammates at an undisclosed location in late March or early April. And if the quarterback plays poorly, heavy criticism will be there no matter what he did or didn’t do in the offseason.

In the same way that some critics squawk about veterans skipping voluntary organized team activities in the spring, these stories are only discussed when we’re more than three months away from real games being played and have little bearing on wins and losses by season’s end.

Reed back in Baltimore

Sunday was just another reminder of how good it is to see former Ravens safety Ed Reed maintain a strong relationship with Baltimore as he participated in cornerback Lardarius Webb’s charity softball game at M&T Bank Stadium.

There easily could have been hurt feelings when the Ravens allowed Reed to depart via free agency last year without even putting up a fight to keep him, but the sides remained amicable as the veteran safety returned for the visit to the White House as well as the Super Bowl ring ceremony last summer. It’s only a matter of time before the Ravens honor Reed with a one-day contract — if that’s what he wants, of course — to allow him to retire with the organization that drafted him in 2002, and we’ll see him in the organization’s Ring of Honor as soon as his playing days are over.

Many have called for the future Hall of Fame safety to retire, but there’s no reason why the 35-year-old shouldn’t try to continue playing if there’s a team who wants him and he’s healthy enough — a big question — with the nerve impingement in his neck and past hip issues. His play on the field is a far cry from what it once was as one of the greatest safeties in NFL history, but his leadership and football intelligence could still be assets for a team envisioning the right role for him at this late stage in his career.

As for Reed having a position in the Ravens organization after his playing days are over, it might be too soon to immediately hire him as an assistant coach, but the reputation he gained for mentoring young players late in his career as well as his vast knowledge for the game are talents the organization would be wise to use in some capacity.

Offensive line depth chart crowded

The development of the offensive line will continue to be a major storyline in the preseason as the Ravens decide who will be lining up at right tackle, but a simple look at the depth chart suggests some household names could be on the chopping block at the end of the summer.

The Ravens currently have 11 offensive linemen who either have extensive NFL experience or were drafted by the organization in recent years, a list that includes Eugene Monroe, Marshal Yanda, Kelechi Osemele, Jeremy Zuttah, John Urschel, Gino Gradkowski, Jah Reid, A.Q. Shipley, Rick Wagner, Ryan Jensen, and Will Rackley. That group does not include rookie free agent tackle James Hurst, who is held in high regard and was considered a sure draft pick by many experts before he fractured his leg in North Carolina’s bowl game in late December.

Of course, depth doesn’t mean quality depth as the Ravens will determine whether Wagner or Jensen can cut it at right tackle or elect to move Osemele from left guard to tackle and explore the possibility of a veteran like Rackley at the left guard spot. General manager Ozzie Newsome and coach John Harbaugh have also left open the possibility of adding another veteran tackle such as Eric Winston.

Regardless of how it plays out, holdovers from recent years such as Reid, Gradkowski, and Shipley should be looking over their shoulder this summer as it’s clear there is plenty of competition in an effort to improve what was an awful line a year ago.

Elam praised

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