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Ed Reed gave football his all -- and gave it the right way

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BALTIMORE -- Anyone who's spent time in Foxborough, Massachusetts, has heard about the respect Bill Belichick had for Ed Reed. And take it from the New England Patriots coach's assistant, Dean Pees, who wound up coaching the all-planet safety: It was genuine.

"I can remember Belichick standing up in front of the team one time -- in front of the whole team -- and saying, 'Don't let this guy wreck the game,' " Pees said, smiling. "And that's the respect he had for him."

Belichick wasn't alone.

There are stories, of course, to tell on the day Reed signed a one-day contract here in Maryland so he could officially retire a Raven (though he emphasized he's not "hanging his cleats up", because he still trains like he's playing). Stories that describe what made him such an irrepressible presence in the Baltimore secondary for over a decade.

And there's a way to tie all of them together to try and define a player who, along with Pittsburgh Steelers thumper Troy Polamalu, came to define his position in the new millennium.

Mike Pettine remembers a few of those tales, having arrived in the NFL the same year Reed did, the first of seven years they spent together in Baltimore. His nickname, as the former Ravens assistant recalls it, was "Speedo Killer." The reason, in simple terms, is because there was a coverage called "Speedo" to combat the deep cross, where Reed would switch with a corner -- who'd take his responsibility in the deep middle -- to jump the route.

"Seemed like half his interceptions were on the deep over," Pettine explained.

And it was easy to see why, too. That takes anticipation, timing and instincts, things Reed brought to the table in bushels.

There was the playoff game in Miami in January of 2009, when Reed was playing the deep half, recognized the Dolphins look, and picked off a quick out on the other side of the field. His other pick in that game, returned for a touchdown, got more attention, but it was the aforementioned one that left Chad Pennington scratching his head. The Miami quarterback later said the coverage dictated the throw and Reed just, well, showed up where he wasn't supposed to be.

Then, there was the 108-yard interception return for a touchdown against Philly earlier that season, where Reed deftly hid behind a back judge so Eagles QB Kevin Kolb would lose him for just long enough to have the ball find him.

Colts coach Chuck Pagano -- who helped recruit Reed to Miami in 1997 and was his position coach both as a collegian and a pro -- remembers those, and being on the other side of one just as vividly.

"I was at Cleveland with Butch (Davis) and we were at Baltimore, early 2000s, we're down six and going in to score," he said. "We're gonna beat them by a point, and I think it was Jeff Garcia throws an option route, and Ray Lewis sees it and pops it up into the air. Eddie caught it -- he took it off the carpet, literally an inch from the carpet. And he runs it all the way back, and as he's passing me on the sideline, he's peeking over, like, 'I got you.' "

In these instances, Reed might've looked like he was freelancing, but that wasn't quite the case.

He'd studied so long and so hard in most of these cases, he was simply a step ahead. On the Miami interception, as Pagano explains it, a Dolphin did get open in the area Reed was supposed to be covering -- but Reed knew Pennington wasn't going there, the same way he knew where Kolb was going, saw the official and seized the opportunity, or had the presence of mind to find an old coach of his on the way to the end zone.

Reed was usually right. And when he wasn't, he'd correct it.

"(In 2009), he and I were not in agreement about when we should play quarters coverage," Ravens coach John Harbaugh texted, after the retirement presser. "He wanted more freedom and I felt like (playing) that way exposed our defense way too much. I agreed to let him do it his way. We got beat by Philip Rivers for two touchdown passes. To Ed's credit, he saddled up to me and said, 'Man, you're right. We'll do it that way. It's better.'

"And for the next four years, he did it the other way. Just thought that was classy and coachable for a superstar -- it said a lot at the time."

History will remember Reed as one of the rangiest safeties of all time, a prototype center fielder with a knack for coming up with his best work at the biggest moments.

He's the all-time leader in interception-return yards, and playoff interceptions, and ranks sixth in regular-season picks. He's one of three safeties to win Defensive Player of the Year over the last 30 years. He's a nine-time Pro Bowler and a Super Bowl champion.

But the reason he had that extra step, the reason he could bait the quarterback, the reason he could cover all that ground was largely because he studied longer and harder, understood the game better, and could translate all of it onto the field more efficiently than almost anyone else.

Pagano put it like this: "He studied so dang much, on game day, there was no thinking involved."

"Pure timed speed, he's not a 4.3 guy," added Pettine. "His instincts and his preparation are what made him so fast. He got there faster because he anticipated so well. And he gambled, but those were much more safe bets than they looked, based on his study. ... It looked like he was reckless. He truly wasn't."

Reed wants to stay in football. He's coaching flag in Georgia now, and helping share his secrets with other pros who will listen.

He says he hopes his legacy is as a guy who "loved playing football." Reed adds, "I really did wanna give my all to this game, and make sure I gave it the right way."

All his coaches saw that rub off on teammates, whether it was a younger guy on the scout team needing direction or an older vet looking for a spark. All those who came through here saw the effect it had on the Ravens as a whole.

And it's not hard to see the resulting respect Reed gets for that, whether it's here, in Foxborough or anywhere else.

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer.

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