Jordan Reed 'still dealing with the pain,' along with new tactics

John KeimESPN Staff Writer4 Minute Read

ASHBURN, Va. -- The numbers don’t match the way Washington Redskins tight end Jordan Reed feels about his season. Nor do they tell the entire story. He knows he’s still fighting pain in his toe. He knows he’s still rebuilding strength in his legs. He knows what he needs most is a healthy offseason.

Reed has caught 37 passes for 391 yards, putting him on a pace to finish with 66 receptions, 695 yards and two touchdowns. There are reasons why those numbers aren’t higher, starting with lingering pain after having surgery on both big toes this offseason.

“I feel like I’m starting to come over the curve,” he said. “[But] I’m still dealing with the pain. I have scar tissue in both my toes, and I’ve got to run routes and cut hard and slam my feet every day. I’m starting to learn how to manage it, find what works for me and what takes away the pain.”

Doctors visit Reed’s house daily. One, Daniel Karp, performs dry-needling on Reed's toes and has him do toe exercises. Because Reed couldn’t walk for seven weeks in the offseason, he said he’s still building strength. So Karp goes to work. Other doctors come over to perform various tasks.

“It hasn’t been like the past, but I also understand I’ve got a new quarterback I didn’t work with the whole offseason,” Reed said. “I’ve got two surgeries that are still healing up and still getting stronger, and I also understand I didn’t have an offseason. That being said, I’m still able to be productive and help the team. I’m proud of that.”

Reed has been targeted 6.5 times per game, an increase from last year’s 6.0, though he played only six games in 2017 because of his toes. However, he averaged 8.07 targets in 2015 and 7.3 targets in 2016.

But defenses are playing him differently, and both Reed and the Redskins need to adjust. Teams are playing less man coverage against Reed; he has feasted off that coverage in the past, especially when matched up against linebackers.

Jordan Reed, who had 11 touchdown catches in 2015, has three in his past 15 games.Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire

However, when teams do play more man coverage against Reed, they're using cornerbacks or safeties.

“I’m learning they’re just as quick as me,” Reed said of the defensive backs. “I’m getting a lot of corners now. ... I can’t 'out-quick' them like the linebackers, so I have to attack them differently and use physicality and size. Also, they know my route game hasn’t been that vertical. It’s been underneath, so they’re sitting on the underneath [routes].”

Two plays vs. Tampa Bay illustrated the issue. On a third-and-5, Tampa Bay’s Andrew Adams was aligned 2 yards off Reed. As Reed came off the line, he shuffled his feet and cut inside. Adams never opened his hips, drove on the ball and broke up the pass.

Later in the game, on a second-and-10, Adams again was 2 yards off Reed. This time, Reed didn’t shuffle his feet off the line and pressed Adams vertically. Adams opened his hips, allowing Reed to break outside for a 6-yard catch.

“If you can get a guy to open his hips and have the suddenness Jordan has, then he’s going to win,” said Redskins tight ends coach Wes Phillips. “If a guy is playing downhill on the route the whole time because he never had to turn and open, he never felt the threat of a vertical route. That’s something our receivers are working on all the time.”

Reed has caught 62.7 percent of the passes thrown his way; his previous low in a season was 75 percent. Some of that stems from working with quarterback Alex Smith for the first time. To help the timing, Reed and Smith -- and other receivers -- work off to the side when special teams are practicing.

“I think it's not so much like, 'Hey, what has he done up to this point or how does it compare to years past?'" Smith said. “For me, it's where are we going, is it heading in the right direction and are we continuing to get better. I think we are headed there.”

Reed still leads the Redskins tight ends with 359 snaps. But the Redskins -- who are averaging almost the same amount of passes as last year -- have thrown on 65 percent of his snaps. They’ve run on 69 percent of backup Jeremy Sprinkle’s snaps. Reed considers Sprinkle and Vernon Davis “great blockers,” so he knows why they play more on run downs than he does. But they also somewhat lose an element of surprise when Reed is in the game.

Mostly, though, what Reed and the Redskins want is the same thing: good health.

“Now all I hope and pray for is to finish the season healthy and have the whole offseason to work on my craft and strengthen my whole body,” Reed said.

Until then, he’ll keep managing the pain in his toes and trying to do what the Redskins need.

“I can’t say enough about the way he’s worked to come back,” Phillips said. “He’s still fighting through it. ... He’s poised to have the games we know he’s capable of having.”

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