AUSTIN, Texas -- After a couple games, it’s just a slow start. At midseason, a bit concerning. Three-fourths of the way through, it’s getting frustrating.
Cedric Reed came back for his senior season at Texas to get his degree. He came back for the new coaches. He wanted a chance to leave the program in better shape. He wanted to improve on his 10 sacks as a junior. He wanted trophies and wanted to be an All-American.
The defensive end didn’t expect 1.5 sacks and five losses through eight games. He didn’t come back for that. And there’s nothing you can say about it that Reed hasn’t already thought himself.
“I beat myself up over it every night,” Reed said.
Have those senior-year numbers -- 37 tackles, four tackles for loss, two pass breakups, the sack and a half -- cost the preseason All-Big 12 end some pro money? “Yeah, definitely,” he says. Of course it’s crossed his mind. He knows who’s keeping score.
“It’s football, you know?” Reed said. “Stats got a lot to do with it. My stats aren’t there.”
There are a bunch of good reasons why, and Reed knows most people won’t understand them. Texas’ new defensive scheme has asked Reed to play a new role. He’s had to make sacrifices.
Nobody gives Reed credit, for example, for handling two gaps to clear room for linebackers Jordan Hicks and Steve Edmond to rack up a dozen or more tackles, which they’ve done nine times this season. The stat sheet has no love for keeping a blocker off a ‘backer.
“We tell him go fall on a grenade for us,” defensive coordinator Vance Bedford said.
Reed is playing more on the field side and playing more 4-technique in an odd front this year. That’s a far cry from what was asked of him in 2013, when Reed teamed with end Jackson Jeffcoat, the Big 12’s Defensive Player of the Year. He’s taking on a guard and a tackle. He’s stopping the run more.
“There’s a lot of stuff that, on the outside looking in, it’s a little different,” Reed said. “I’m a team player. Always been a team player. I’ll do exactly what the coaches ask me to do.”
That’s not to say he hasn’t had chances. Texas’ manchild at defensive tackle, Malcom Brown, is the one playing like an All-American. Brown is getting double-teamed now. Texas still has a Big 12-leading 26 sacks as a unit. Reed is in backfield like everyone else. He’s just not getting his usual takedowns.
But look across the Big 12, Bedford says. The ball is coming out fast. Three-step drop, read and fire. The window for sacks closes quickly.
“So people are saying ‘Ced's not doing this, Ced's not doing that.’ When we sit and watch the video, the ball is out quick and he's not going to get the sack,” Bedford said. “Sometimes we need to cover better in the back end. That's all part of it.”
The nuances behind Reed’s quiet senior campaign, while helpful, don’t bring him much peace. They can quell some of the disappointment, but not his impatience. Not with four games left in his career at Texas and no guarantee of a fifth.
“I’m used to having high numbers and high stats, and sometimes football can really humble you,” Reed said. “You’re not always going to perform the way you want to. Sometimes I feel like I haven’t performed the way I used to.”
Last December, Reed explored the possibility of going pro. He would’ve needed a guarantee of going in the first three rounds. That’s not what draft evaluations projected. Considering Jeffcoat and every other Longhorn went undrafted, perhaps Reed dodged a bullet. Doesn't feel like it now.
There’s still a market for 6-foot-5, 272-pound defensive linemen at the next level. Reed would be lying if he said he doesn’t wonder how NFL scouts perceive him now. His coaches continue to have his back.
“I would hope that he wouldn't beat himself up,” Bedford said. “Over the last couple of games, he's done a good job for us. Kansas State was probably his best game of the season.”
The next one offers another chance to start changing the story of his season. And fortunately for Reed, Texas Tech’s quarterback will either be an injured and immobile Davis Webb or a dual-threat true freshman, Patrick Mahomes.
The rookie who’s never started sounds just fine to the pass rusher who’s never been hungrier.
“I’d love to see him in there,” Reed said. “A freshman, Halloween [weekend], against Texas -- that’d be great.”