Landon Collins noticed immediately this summer. Something was different about Jordan Reed.
For four seasons as a safety for the New York Giants, Collins helped defend Reed, the Washington Redskins’ best pass catcher. And in the last two of those years, it was easy for Collins to see that Reed wasn’t right. Then came this summer and training camp, and from the first day in Richmond, Reed burst down the field with speed Collins, now Washington’s starting strong safety, hadn’t seen from Reed in years.
“He’s got his pep back in his step,” Collins said this week.
Perhaps the Redskins’ most impressive player this summer is the one who is often considered their best playmaker — when healthy. Reed’s name has carried that caveat his whole career. If all parts of Reed’s body feel well, there are few better pass-catching tight ends in the NFL. The problem is that rarely has Reed been healthy, especially in the years after his breakout season in 2015, when he had 87 catches for 952 yards and 11 touchdowns and it seemed he was on the verge of being a huge star.
The past two months have been different, however. The Reed of the past two months is more like the Reed of that 2015 season, running free, twirling around defenders and leaping high for passes. He expects to play for the first time this preseason in Thursday’s game at Atlanta. This is the traditional practice game for teams’ veterans, their one chance to work at regular season speed against another team. For Reed, it will be his opportunity to show the rest of the league what people saw in Richmond this summer.
“Yeah, I’m feeling good,” he said as he walked off the practice fields at the team’s headquarters earlier in the week. “This is one of the healthiest offseasons I’ve ever had and it’s been great.”
Without the hurting, Reed was able to do something this spring that he hadn’t been able to do in recent years: work hard with trainers. In the past, he always was recovering from something — a pulled hamstring, a broken toe, toe surgery — so that there wasn’t time to go find a trainer and work hard to strengthen his body in the months before camp.
Early in his career he didn’t always work hard in the weeks between offseason workouts and training camp. But as his body broke down, he realized he needed to spend time inside gyms if he wanted a good start to the season. His first year really working in June was 2015, which was, of course, his best season. This was the first offseason he could get back to that.
“I just didn’t have any setbacks,” he said. “The last couple years I had surgeries and toe injuries that stopped me from training in the most important months to train. This offseason I had a chance to really train."
This offseason he went to Houston, where he worked with James Cooper, the trainer of running back Adrian Peterson and left tackle Trent Williams, who co-own Cooper’s gym with him. He returned to Virginia to visit his physical therapist, then trained outside Miami with workout specialist Pete Bommarito, who has worked with many NFL players.
By the time he got to Richmond, he felt as good as he had in years.
Still, as camp started, he wasn’t sure whether the offseason work would translate to practices. There had been so many injuries the past few seasons it was hard to be positive he would be the player he was before. This is what happens when the list of your injuries grows longer than that of accomplishments.
“It was kind of hard to tell if it was going to be like the past or if I was going to improve or not,” he said. “I got here and started running routes versus guys. That’s when I knew I can still play at a high level.”
He smiled. Cautiously.
So many of the Redskins’ hopes for this season rely upon a long list of ifs, none of which might be bigger than the ifs attached to Reed. If he is healthy, the offense could be very efficient, featuring Reed as a chains-moving pass-catcher in an attack that figures to run the ball often. When everything is right with him, he is difficult to stop, and he can open opportunities for the team’s wide receivers.
Rarely has that happened in his professional career. He has never played more than the 14 games he played in 2015. He had 12 in 2016 when slowed by a concussion and an AC joint injury. The next year a toe fracture and hamstring injury limited him to six games. Last season, his recovery from offseason toe surgery and a toe sprain cut his season to 13 games. None of those years came close to his 2015 — which is also the last season the team went to the playoffs.
The injuries have piled up so much that he knows to expect the question. That’s what happens when you miss a third of your team’s games in your career. This time feels different. Each week brings a little more confidence that everything feels better. The practices started well for them, and they have continued to be that way. The steady days have given him hope that maybe the pain is in the past.
“It’s just being consistent,” he said. "That’s what I base it off of. You can’t have one good practice and then the next couple not. Consistency is what builds confidence for me.”
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