Commentary

Reed: "When I feel it, I'll yell 'It's time!'"

After seven Pro Bowl seasons, the Ravens free safety knows a thing or two about playing defense

Updated: December 1, 2011, 11:24 AM ET
By Seth Wickersham | ESPN The Magazine

Ed ReedAl Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesReed is the NFL's active career leader with 1,463 INT return yards.

This article appears in ESPN The Magazine's Dec. 12, 2011 "Interview Issue."

WICKERSHAM: Where do you think you rank all-time among safeties?

REED: Ah, man. I don't know. I guess up there with the greats.

The play that put you on the map came in 2001, your senior year at Miami. Fourth quarter, you're up 12-7 and Boston College has the ball first and goal. Brian St. Pierre throws a slant, which is intercepted by defensive tackle Matt Walters. But as he's tackled, you strip the ball and return it for a TD. So you intercepted an interception? Let's make this right for the record. I didn't take it. Matt looked up, last moment, and gave me the ball. BC robbed us the year before, so we had to cover the spread.

Who are the toughest QBs to read? Brady. Peyton. Brees. Rivers. Palmer.

The easiest? Younger guys -- and most of the QBs in Cleveland.

What are the keys to reading a QB's eyes? You can't. It's a misconception. If he looks a certain way, you might think about going that way, but until he commits, you can't move. My first DB coach with the Ravens, Donnie Henderson, said, "If you break on the ball, you're never wrong." I can't say I always do it perfectly, but it all comes back to being disciplined.

You use the word "disciplined," but on many of your best plays you seem to be freelancing. Are you? I'm never truly freelancing. Most safeties just try to cover ground; I try to make a play and cover ground. To do that, you gotta know where your help is. That comes with practice, games and confidence.

Bill Belichick complimented you in 2009 on an out route that you jumped in a wild-card win over the Dolphins the previous season. You didn't break on the ball; you broke before it was thrown. How was that disciplined? They ran an out route in the first quarter, but the QB [Chad Pennington] didn't throw that route. Everything in football is about running one play to set up another, so in the third quarter, I was in the middle of the field, saw the play and ran to the sideline for the interception. It was a disciplined play within the defense.

What's the biggest difference between playing corner and safety? Corner isn't as mental. We have to get people lined up, make checks and adjustments. Corners are at their best playing brain-dead.

Sluggers often say they can feel a home run as the ball arrives at their bat. Do you feel that way about interceptions? Before the snap, when I'm feeling it and they've thrown a couple of times to a certain receiver, I'll yell, "It's time!"

As you age and your physical gifts decrease, how do you compensate? In the off-season, a few other guys and I work with Dr. Clayton Gibson and his antiaging program in Miami every day for four hours. We do acupuncture, chiropractic work, foot detoxes ...

A foot detox? We put our feet in a bucket of hot water and salt for 30 minutes to nourish our muscles. I was born to do this. This is the talent that the Lord has blessed me with, and I want to take care of myself because football will be only a small part of my life.

Seth Wickersham is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. He conducted this interview on Oct. 28, 2011. Follow The Mag on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

Seth Wickersham | email

ESPN The Magazine senior writer
Seth Wickersham joined ESPN The Magazine after graduating from the University of Missouri. Although he primarily covers the NFL, his assignments also have taken him to the Athens Olympics, the World Series, the NCAA tournament and the NHL and NBA playoffs.