He spent his college career at Arizona as a down lineman at defensive end, so what happened when he got drafted by the Texans? They moved him to outside linebacker and changed the habits of a lifetime by asking him to start each play from a standup position.
“Standing up in this defense means you have a lot more responsibility,” Reed said. “Either you’re going to be dropping or rushing, doing stunts. You need to be on top of your game. It’s a change. I did all that in college with my hand down.”
So what’s the big deal? It’s still defense, right? The object is still to get the quarterback, right?
“It’s challenging at first to get the technique right and get the footwork down,” Reed said. “But it’s coming along right now. At first, it was deciphering run or pass. You have different responsibilities if it’s run or pass. I’d say that’s the biggest challenge, to be in the right position.”
Reed had some idea before the draft that he might be changing positions. Scouting reports had him going more as a linebacker than a defensive end, where he made his mark in college.
Sure enough, the Texans drafted Reed in the second round as an outside linebacker. This after he started 34 games for Arizona and recorded 107 tackles and 16 1/2 sacks as a defensive end.
The early going was tough, but Reed has made plays in both of the Texans’ first two preseason games. It hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“I know how big of a change that is going from your hand down to up,” head coach Gary Kubiak said. “The way he’s adapted, I think he’s starting to fit in. He’s an effort player, big-time effort guy.”
Reed has gotten special attention from linebackers coach Reggie Herring.
“He’s gotten so much better,” Herring said. “The more reps he gets, the better he’s getting. It’s a matter of doing it over and over.
“We’re really pleased with where he’s at right now. The game is slowing down for him. He’s starting to process. He’s not thinking as much about footwork, technique, what do I do on this play.”
General manager Rick Smith says Reed is not a repeat offender when he makes a mistake. His quick-learning skills are making Reed a strong candidate for special teams duty.
“He’s the one player right now that really stands out from a standpoint of every time he gets coached on something or makes a mistake, it’s over, it’s done, and there’s a new level that he’s reaching every day as a player with (special teams coordinator) Joe (Marciano) and the defense,” Kubiak said. “I’m very encouraged. He’s pushing players right now and pushing for time. That’s a good thing for our team.”
Reed says his head isn’t spinning quite as much as it did on the first day of drills.
“Coaches harp on production,” Reed said. “They can fix technique as long as you make plays. I’m my toughest critic. I expect a lot out of myself. I want to do right by the coaches out here every day in the heat and try not to disappoint and go 100 percent.
“It doesn’t feel like I’ve been doing it for a long time. It felt good to make a few plays, but I want to continue to do that and play consistent. That’s what the coaches want to see. I know that fits with trusting me to put me on the field.”
Against the Jets in the preseason opener, Reed had a tackle for loss and a deflected pass. Last Saturday, against the Saints, he had two sacks and forced a fumble. Still, he isn’t turned by early compliments. What does Herring chide him about the most?
“I could give you a whole list, not the right foot work, a lot of technique stuff that really would help me make plays,” Reed said. “Things like lining up in the exact right place, using hands, getting off blocks, those things.
“I know that I have to stay consistent and I can’t back down. I can’t listen to compliments. I can’t be satisfied with what I’m doing. I will always expect more of myself no matter how well I do.”
Herring pointed out that the Texans, like the rest of the NFL, have had to go into hurry-up mode because of the labor issue.
“We’re no different from everybody else,” Herring said. “But we missed OTAs. We missed practices where you put your foundation in, where you work on the fundamentals. You explain and show them concepts on why you are doing certain things. You get to go at a slower pace.
“This season, we’re trying to cram this all into preseason. It gets frustrating at times, but the reality is that we have to get there by game one.”
Reed has responded to Herring’s vocal style.
“It’s definitely a different character here than college,” Reed said. “I had a coach that didn’t yell much. Right now, he’s on top of me everything that I do.”
Herring smiled at Reed’s comment.
“The yelling is instructional,” Herring said. “It’s what are you doing wrong, what should have been done. At the end of the day, the game has slowed and he’s more comfortable with what he’s doing. I’m correcting him less. It was obvious in the game this week that he’s getting more comfortable with what he’s doing. We just hope he continues on this path.
“To be honest with you, the yelling has slowed down.”
EDITOR'S NOTE: Michael A. Lutz worked for The Associated Press for 38 years covering news and sports in Louisville, Ky. Dallas and Houston. Most of that time was spent in Houston covering the Oilers, Astros, Texans and other college and pro sports.