Ed Reed refers to Ray Lewis as his brother, and there were moments during the Baltimore Ravens' training camp when it looked as if the dynamic safety was indeed the younger sibling of the tough linebacker.
There was Lewis, jogging off of the field after a recent practice, wearing a sleeveless black T-shirt with "The Storm Is Over" screened across the front and "T52" on the bottom of the back. And there was Reed, trotting a step or two behind Lewis, wearing the exact same gear.
The two men share more than the same clothes and college team (Miami); they share the same passion for football and the same kind of intensity. When Baltimore opens its season against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, the Ravens' defense will look to Lewis and Reed, its two playmakers, to help lead the way to another AFC North championship.
"Both of those guys were leaders at Miami. Not a whole lot intimidates either one of those guys, and that's a unique thing," Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. "Teams are lucky if they have one [player like that]; of the 32 teams in the NFL, you're lucky if you have one."
The Ravens have two, and on the same unit no less. Reed, who is entering his third season in the NFL, has emerged as one of the league's premier strong safeties. His mentor has been Lewis, perhaps the most feared defensive player in the league.
"I wouldn't consider Ed as a follower of [Lewis]; I think they kind of walk together and learn from each other," second-year safety Gerome Sapp said. "Obviously, Ray's been in the game a lot longer than Ed, so Ed has taken parts of his life and his game and learned from him to make him a better person. . . .
"As a younger guy, like myself, coming in, I think some of what Ray instills in Ed, Ed instills in me and some of the younger players. It's like a full circle."
When the Ravens took Reed with the 24th overall pick of the 2002 draft, the selection didn't create the same kind of buzz as the team's previous top picks, even though Reed was a four-year starter at Miami and one of the leaders of the Hurricanes' national championship team. The one quality that kept coming up when discussing Reed was that he played with the same kind of fire as another former Hurricanes all-American: Lewis.
Reed, who turned 26 on Saturday, and Lewis, 29, never crossed paths at Miami, though they certainly knew of each other. Their friendship began as soon as Reed came to Baltimore. Once they started talking, they realized they had the same interests, the same passions.
"It was like he was waiting for me to come," Reed said. "God just delivered me here, it was a blessing, and Ray received me with open arms. We've been brothers ever since. . . . From being around him all the time, sooner or later you find yourself doing the same things. Me and Ray are very unique, because a lot of the things we seem to like and do, we both do. It's the same exact thing. . . . It's a blessing. That's my bro, my big brother."
Their lockers stand side-by-side in the corner of the locker room in the Ravens' training facility. They spent their offseason together in Florida, working out everyday from "sunrise to sunset," as Reed put it. Now that the season is here, Reed basically lives at Lewis's house, and they spend most of their time watching tape together.
"When we get home, we sit down," Lewis said. "When we sit down, we throw in the tape. . . . A couple of times I try to explain this to him, that to him, if he doesn't understand it already -- which he does," Lewis said. "It's just football. Outside of that, we just start putting stuff together, how we're going to play this, how we're going to play that."
Reed looks rather ordinary when he walks through the Ravens' locker room in his T-shirt, shorts and glasses; he doesn't have exceptional size (he is 5 feet 11 and 200 pounds) or speed. His status as one of the league's top safeties doesn't come from making punishing hits, but rather from making dynamic plays.
He has tremendous instincts; like Lewis, he always seems to be around the ball. Says teammate Gary Baxter, "He's like that little sneaky safety kind of type where you don't think he'll make the play, but he'll sneak up in there and make a play"
Reed started all 16 games as a rookie and led the Ravens with five interceptions (a team record for rookies). He also had 86 tackles (fourth-best on the team), one sack and two blocked punts. Reed was named to the Pro Bowl last season after tying the franchise record for interceptions with seven, and he also blocked two punts (both of which he returned for touchdowns). He was fifth on the team with 92 tackles.
"You certainly come out of your mother's wombs with your physical characteristics. The football part of it, being instinctive, most of it comes from playing football a lot," Nolan said. Reed and Lewis "have both played football since they were little, and somewhere along the way decided that they were going to study it, and pursue it. That's one reason why I think Ed has come so far so quickly. Not only is he passionate about the game and he loves to play it, but he's been that way for a long time."
And Reed figures to stay that way for a long time. The Ravens are eager to see him make even more plays. So is Lewis.
"Every time he makes a play, it's overwhelming, just because you see someone who really made a sacrifice and then lived by it," Lewis said. "It's one thing to do it yourself. It's another thing to bring a young one up."
Ravens Notes: Left tackle Jonathan Ogden, who sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee on Sept. 2, is still listed as questionable for Sunday's game. The seven-time Pro Bowler, however, said on Friday that there would have to be "substantial" improvement for him to play. He has not practiced this week.
"It doesn't feel great right now, but you never know," Ogden said. "If things improve over the next 48 hours or so, I'll be able to do something.
It's one of those things I can't control."
If Ogden can't go, then seven-year veteran Ethan Brooks will start in his place. With Ogden hobbled and center Mike Flynn out with a broken collarbone, the Ravens are left with just six healthy linemen. Baltimore has until 4 p.m. on Saturday to decide whether to add another offensive lineman to its roster, in which case it would have to waive a player. . . . Nose tackle Kelly Gregg (knee) and linebacker Adalius Thomas (knee) are also questionable, but both players said that they will play against the Browns. . . . The Ravens re-signed fullback Harold Morrow on Thursday. To make room for the nine-year veteran, the Ravens moved rookie quarterback Josh Harris to the practice squad (Harris was released and cleared waivers). Wide receiver Todd Devoe was dropped from the practice squad on Friday.