ALDIE, Va. - Watch Jordan Reed practice and there is guts to his work that is absolute. Watch Jordan Reed play and there is an inferno that is furious. Look at his eyes when he speaks and there is natural power that oozes severity.
There is no clown in Jordan Reed.
His on switch is always on.
He is not a flippant talker. The Washington tight end sat near his home here last week and surprised himself with what he was willing to reveal from his past and where he was willing to navigate about his future. It was an atypical, in-the-moment acknowledgement for Reed where he affirmed that his NFL career and life justly have reached elusive stature.
As the 2016 NFL season approaches, Reed is a pinnacle player. He is a tight end with wide receiver-like skills, with a recent contract worth nearly $50 million. He is the freshest face among the NFL's supreme. He could become an exciting architect of this entire season. He is a core in his team's bid to defend its NFC East crown. He will be a taxing matchup for defenses because of his athleticism, his growth and his will.
At age 26, with his 6'3, 240-pound edge, he is intent on proving that his team-best 87 receptions, 952 yards and 11 touchdowns last year in his third pro season were only a taste of what's next.
"I always shy away, stay to myself, keep my head down," Reed said. "I'm still playful. I have fun with my teammates. But even with them, I sort of keep to myself. When you are all out there in the open, more distractions, more negative things come. I don't want to really focus on me too much.
"I am humble, I'm not cocky, but I do feel like on the field, I'm going to win matchups. Make plays. Last year God blessed me with that kind of opportunity. I'm even more hungry, determined and focused. You still have to earn a contract. If you don't, you won't see your entire contract. You've got to keep performing. I see guys all around me who want to compete, want to be No. 1 and that is our mindset. Whenever I do something, I work like a champion in it. I hope to really emerge as the best tight end in the league this year. That is definitely motivation. Play all 16 games. Bring the best. I learn to see what works and what doesn't. I'm not perfect. But I see."
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Reed spent his earliest years in New Britain, Conn. His brother, David, who is three years older, was more like his father. David played wide receiver at Utah and was a member of the Baltimore Ravens' 2012 Super Bowl championship team. Jordan played at the University of Florida before being drafted by Washington in 2013.
Jordan Reed said New Britain was full of challenges, full of danger. He could have been a statistic, a victim of the prevalent gun violence. He escaped.
Not once, but twice.
"Once my brother made the NFL," said Reed, "I was 19, and he got me a gold chain with diamonds and a cross. I was home from Florida one weekend and me and my boys were walking up a street. A car swerved at us. A guy from inside says, `Yo!' I thought it was a friend. I looked closely. Not one of our friends. They asked, `Where's the weed at?' We said we don't know, we're just walking to the crib. The street light hit my chain. It was shining. He asked me if the chain was real. Then he said, `Give it to me!' I tucked it inside my shirt. Another guy in the car pulled a gun out. He was getting ready to cock it. We took off. We ran into an area where there were trees. We stayed there for about 15 minutes. We knew the area and they didn't. That helped save us."
And then at age 21 ...
"I was home from Florida again and went to a party. I could quickly see it was a trash party. I thought, let me get out of here. There were five guys at the door who weren't going to let me leave. I didn't back down. A guy pulled out a gun. It was only a few inches away from me. He talked a lot of junk. But I just walked away. And he let me."
Jordan Reed realizes it only takes an instant to change a life. For his lifetime, he has been watching, absorbing, seeing what works and what doesn't. He sees.
His mother, Karen, and his father, David Lott, are from Dubuque, Iowa. So were his grandparents, Robert and Emily Lott and Lyle and Dorothy Reed. He would often visit the farms there in Iowa up until age six. He even had his own tractor there, where he was allowed to climb it and play as if he were driving it. His grandparents called him "scud missile." Even then, Reed was assertive. His uncle Roscoe from Watts was a drug kingpin, Reed said. There were models, all types of models. There were men like Jack Cochran, his high school football coach, too.
"Coach Cochran started out in New Britain but then got a job in New London (Conn.), about 45 miles away," Reed said. "He asked my mother if we could move to New London, if he could continue to coach us. I was 14 when me and my brother moved there. My mother stayed back and was transitioning and we moved into a house in New London, me and my brother. This is how he became more like my dad, the man of the house, like a father to me."
Reed was a quarterback. He threw touchdown passes to David. In his best season Reed threw 38 touchdown passes and only two interceptions. David went off to college and Reed stayed behind in high school in the house. Alone.
"When David went to college, he had some trouble before that and some trouble after, and all the while I was learning from him and learning from his mistakes," Reed said. "Nobody was there to lead him. He had to learn from his own. When he left for college, I was there by myself. The electricity was off for a couple of weeks. One of my friends, Tyler, came by with his mom, Mrs. Major, to pick me up. She saw the electricity situation and said, `No, uh-uh, this won't do.' She insisted I come to live with them. I did. Her husband, Coach Major, was coach of the defense. I was a sophomore. They made a huge impact on me.
"Coach Major was a very serious person. He was not a clown. He was a man of service. He took care of his family. Those kinds of people have molded me. My brother helped mold me. My mother is a positive, caring person who is close by now. My father is in contact with me now and we are building our relationship. I have a friend here, Vinny Fur, a retired master chief of the Navy, who was a neighbor. He has taught me how to run the business of owning a home, how to be organized. I watched him. I admired him. He taught me what works."
Sometimes the quietest people are the ones paying the most attention.
Sometimes quiet is the way to reach them, inspire them.
This is what Reed says about the coach who drafted him, Mike Shanahan, in the third round, pick No. 85 of the 2013 draft:
"Mike Shanahan helped me mature. One day after practice after a preseason game, I didn't know the plays. I had some mental errors. He walked off the field with me.
"He said, `Jordan, I know you can play, but we're not going to let you play if you don't know the plays. You just can't.' He was calm and stern. I looked at him. He really got to me.
"I said, `I promise you, I will learn the plays.' And he said, `Okay.' And he walked off. And I thought, man, I really have to learn these plays. This coach just took my word and trusted my word. It was the ultimate spirit of coaching. I will always have a place in my heart for him. That was a big step in me becoming a real pro."
* * *
At Florida, Reed was lost in the shuffle early, waffling back and forth from quarterback to tight end, but for his last two seasons there he insisted on playing tight end. And he did.
Think about the 84 players drafted before him -- including EJ Manuel and Geno Smith and Montee Ball and Damontre Moore -- and it is clear that Reed has already risen far above most of them.
Consider that he has only played tight end for two college and three pro seasons. That's five total seasons, barely a blip for learning the nuances of the position. But being a former quarterback, he says, is a benefit.
"I can feel what the defense is thinking," Reed said. "In zone coverages, I know where to flatten to the soft spot. Where to get open against the safety. Where to make it an easy throw for the quarterback. I know more about pre-snap reads than most tight ends. I know who's going to cover me and that helps me decide how to get leverage. Leverage is all about positioning. Both make the difference in winning matchups."
He enjoys the bond he is building with quarterback Kirk Cousins. It is still raw, he reminds all. They have played only one season together. But he envisions and hopes for a long union, the one like, he said, San Diego's Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates share.
He fought through injuries at his career start but is healthy now. He knows he can become a better blocking tight end. That has been a focus of his offseason work. But this team wants Jordan Reed to run free, to catch the ball short and catch it deep, to catch it in the end zone and become the dominant tight end in today's NFL game.
Jordan Reed's answer is no clowning -- he wants that, too.
"My daughter, Jada, is almost 2," Reed said. "I was married to her mother for a brief time. We separated. But we are back together now. I've got to be there for my daughter every day. I've got to get that right. And I am."
That's because, said Reed, he has learned to see what works and what doesn't.