It wasn’t long ago that J.R. Reed’s biggest worry at practice was trying to contain Ronnie Banks’ offense. Now, after his first NFL minicamp with the Eagles, he’s got more prolific problems: visions of Donovan McNabb dancing around in his head.
After he was drafted in the fourth round of the NFL Draft by the Eagles, former Bulls standout Reed found himself in Philadelphia on the same field as some as some of the NFL’s biggest stars.
“At first it was kind of crazy being around people like that that I grew up watching,” Reed said. “It’s just kind of amazing being out there on the field with McNabb and Brian Dawkins and Jevon Kearse and all those players. Especially Jevon Kearse, how fast he is, but also how big he is. That man is so fast compared to his size. You’re not used to anybody being that fast.”
But once he strapped his helmet on, reality set in fast for Reed.
“After the first day it’s all the same,” he said. “It’s just playing football.”
On the heels of three straight NFC Championship losses, the Philadelphia Eagles used the off-season to make some key additions. They acquired wide receiver Terrell Owens from the San Francisco 49ers to help the offense, and on the other side of the ball Jevon Kearse from the Tennessee Titans will line up at defensive end. But heading into the draft there was still a piece missing in Philly – a kickoff return specialist.
Brian Westbrook returned kickoffs last season, but he will see more time at running back this year, so, in the draft, coach Andy Reid looked at players who had the ability to return kicks.
The opening may give Reed the chance to get on the field and make the immediate impact he wants.
Reed led the nation in average yards per kickoff return with the Bulls. He returned 18 kicks for 570 yards and one touchdown last season, an average of 31.67 yards per return.
But he doesn’t have the job yet. In the sixth round, Philadelphia drafted cornerback Dexter Wynn out of Colorado State, who also returns kicks.
“They stressed that they drafted me as a safety and not just a kick returner,” Reed said. “But being a kick returner was a big part of it; anything to get me on the field as early as possible. When I went to USF, it was a small school and they needed me right then, so I knew I was going to play. That’s why I ended up coming to USF. The quicker I get on the field (in the NFL) the better. I think that I can make an impact on kickoff returns.”
Back at the minicamp, Reed was trying to learn the Eagles’ defensive system, which he said is very different than the one he captained at USF.
“It’s a lot of learning really — trying to learn the system,” he said. “They throw it at you real fast.”
Reed’s number at USF, 32, is taken up by backup safety Michael Lewis, so at the camp he found himself with a 22 across his chest — running back Duce Staley’s old number.
Philadelphia fans are still stinging from Staley’s off-season departure. But Reed said wearing Staley’s old digits wasn’t a big deal because he plays a different position.
“I don’t feel any pressure — it’s two totally different positions. I have to make the team first and then I’ll worry about my number. I probably won’t stay with the jersey if I have a choice to change it.”
Reed said he was surprised to even end up in Philadelphia.
“I was kind of expecting to go to a team that was struggling a little bit — so I could help them out more,” he said. “But this one is already on top so my job in the future is to make sure they stay on top.”