Rex Ryan has called him the Pied Piper in observing the way Buffalo’s defensive backs follow him and hang on his every word. The transition from perennial Pro Bowl player to assistant coach has been an abrupt one for Ed Reed. On Sunday he will officially begin his next chapter in professional football in the very place where he spent 11 years as a player.
“Going back is always good. I played for Baltimore for 11 years and now I work for another team and they’re playing,” said Reed of the Bills Week 1 matchup with the Ravens. “My job is easy. I know what my job is to do and that’s to get those guys ready.”
Reed’s job is assistant secondary coach, but his influence has already carried far more weight than his title. From explaining to young veterans like Jonathan Meeks and Duke Williams what true commitment to your craft should be, to showing Ronald Darby how football is won by the smarter player, to convincing Aaron Williams to change the way he plays to ensure career longevity, Reed’s knowledge has washed over the defensive backs room like a tsunami.
“You have a role model or a person you look up to that’s teaching you a lot of things that you don’t know, and the guy’s done it all,” said Aaron Williams of Reed. “He’s a Hall of Famer, I mean, accolades can go forever. So, why not grasp everything you can from him?”
Buffalo’s secondary coach Tim McDonald was an accomplished player in his own right. A six-time Pro Bowl safety and a Super Bowl champion (1994 with San Francisco) McDonald has more coaching experience than Reed and is every bit the teacher that Reed is. Where the difference lies is in perspective.
“The biggest thing is he still sees things from a player’s perspective being that it hasn’t been that long since he’s been on the field,” said defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman of Reed. “That is a unique perspective and we can’t ever forget that. It’s unique in its own way.”
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“What I try to do is give my perspective of it from a players’ side,” said Reed. “I still have that player’s mentality and I pray I don’t lose it. Although I feel myself slipping into that coach’s mentality with certain things. I just try to give them everything, all the tools possible to put in their tool box to be able to use them. That’s what it’s about.”
But Reed has the wisdom to not give it everything to his pupils at once. He’s providing a steady diet of what they need to know instead of laying out a feast knowing some things could be overlooked.
“He’s doing a great job of not giving me all the secrets he knows,” Williams said. “We just work on something new every day. So anything I can do to grasp what he knows, I’m there every second and every point in time.”
For a team that hasn’t enjoyed playoff success and doesn’t have home grown winners who have played in the biggest games, players like Williams, Darby and Stephon Gilmore didn’t have teammates who could mentor them about what it takes to be a winner. Reed has capably filled that void.
“He’s just making this game easier,” said Williams. “Knowing your scheme is the biggest thing. If you know your scheme and know your assignment your play can be two times, three times faster than just going out there and being athletic and relying on your athleticism. Knowing what everybody does can put you in the right situations. What he did is knowing how everybody works and how you put yourself in a great position. So he’s been teaching me that.”
“It’s exciting going through and seeing a guy like Darby who went to Florida State and I’m a Miami guy and he’s actually listening to me,” said Reed smiling. “And Steph (Gilmore) for what he went through in the offseason to where he’s at now. I’ve been through that process and working with Corey (Graham), who I worked with in Baltimore. He was a nickel with the Ravens. Now here he’s a safety.
“Seeing a young guy like Duke and Meeks get themselves from where they were last year and understanding they had to mature and play different. All of them honestly it’s great to see them grow. And that’s why you teach and that’s why you coach to see your players get better.”
Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium will be the first time Reed’s newest students will be put to the test. The rookie coach has cautioned that Week 1 is only the first step. Their transformation from willing professionals to winners will take time, and not only as players.
“Yeah I’ve already seen these guys doing things that I’ve done in the early years of my career. They’re asking questions and doing things where you give them advice and they’ve taken heed to that,” said Reed. “Yeah you want to see them perform on the field and see it translate from practice to the field. It’s bigger than just on the field. You want to make sure they’re progressing as men, and that you’re helping them as men on and off the field.
“I see these guys maturing right in front of me. We’ve just got to keep building and keep stacking those days and getting those reps and these guys will get better.”
As an NFL coach Reed appears to be doing the same.