No matter who your favorite team is or what sport you’re watching, we all know that in today’s professional sporting world almost every great team is just one major injury away from throwing the season down the toilet.
Ed Reed is obviously a key part to the Baltimore Ravens defensive successes. Ever since Reed was drafted 24th overall from Miami back in 2002, the ball-hawking safety has been sprinkled throughout NFL Films’ specials, Sportscenter’s top 10 list, and endless highlight reels.
Reed had hip surgery this offseason, a surgery that he waited until April to get. The timing could be questionable, especially since there’s a 4-6 month time period before he’s back to 100%. That means he’ll be ready to hit the field by late August at best, but at worst might not be ready until October. The last thing the Ravens want to see is Reed’s name on the injury report on September 13th for the Monday-night season-opener against the N.Y. Jets.
Luckily, behind Reed are two capable safeties that can step in temporarily, and quite possibly for the long-run. Ken Hamlin, the former Dallas Cowboy, was signed this past month to a one-year deal. Meanwhile, Tom Zbikowski, who did well last year stepping in for Reed, is returning for his 4th season.
But what’s the big difference between these 3 players that can start for the Ravens’ secondary at anytime?
We know what Reed brings to the table. The former Defensive Player of the Year snagged 3 interceptions in his injury-shorten regular season, before grabbing 2 more in the post-season. His ability to read a developing play is a unique skill not seen often in the NFL. Like many safeties, Reed is able to read a play before the snap, but his ability to react to a play while it unfolds after the snap is the main reason why he holds the Ravens’ franchise record of 46 interceptions. Combine that with his offensive-like moves when the ball is in his hands and you have one of the best safeties to ever play the game.
So what happens if Reed can’t play all 16 games in 2010?
Ken Hamlin is the new guy on the roster after signing a one-year deal. His best season was with Dallas in 2007 when he made his only Pro Bowl appearance after recording 102 tackles and five interceptions. Jerry Jones and Wade Phillips often referred to Hamlin as “The Quarterback of the defense” due to ability to line up the secondary before the snap. Although Hamlin had statistically disappointing seasons in Dallas the past two years, his true value on the field is priceless. He won’t obtain the interceptions or highlight reel comparisons of Ed Reed, but his leadership and football intelligence is what the Ravens wanted when they signed him.
Tom Zbikowski subbed in for Reed last year and proved he can be a starting free safety in the NFL. He picked off 2 passes, swatted 4, and accumulated 29 tackles. Zibby is a better tackler and is more physical than Hamlin, which is what makes the competition at backup safety so interesting. I’m sure that the Ravens will give Zibby plenty of chances and opportunity to prove his worth this offseason; he just needs to stay consistent and perform when called upon.
Although Reed is unquestionably the starter when healthy, the real questions are when will he be healthy and who will be his replacement. This may be the most important position battles to pay attention to this offseason, as it’s almost a guarantee to effect the opening games of 2010.