At 6-foot-1, 247 pounds, he’s built more like an NFL linebacker. Most of his fellow defensive ends stand three or four inches taller and the wide bodies in the middle weigh a good 50-75 pounds more.
But this is nothing new for the Seahawks’ seventh-round draft pick out of Oregon. You can’t measure a player’s heart by his height and weight.
Because of his size, Reed wasn’t invited to the NFL Combine despite being the most productive defensive end in the Pac-10 Conference for the past two seasons. His 25 sacks as a junior and senior speak for themselves.
But most pro scouts looked at Reed and saw a guy not big enough to play the line and not fast enough to play linebacker.
So he begins his journey with the Seahawks as a decided underdog despite being a two-time All-American at Oregon, a guy who changed games with his play on the field and earned a 3.39 GPA in history in the classroom to boot.
“I take it as motivation. I take it as whatever I want,” said Reed, admittedly tired of the too-small storyline that has followed him all the way back from his prep days in Mission Viejo, Calif. “I need to work harder than the next guy. I need to know the playbook better than the next guy. I need to know the other team better than the next guy.
“I understand that,” he said. “It’s never going to be easy for me, but that’s how it’s always been.”
They called him the Tasmanian Devil at Oregon because of his relentless style of play. But the devilish Duck is taking on stronger competition now in his initial foray into professional football.
At the Seahawks’ initial minicamps and offseason training sessions, Reed hasn’t yet had the pleasure of going up against All-Pro tackle Walter Jones since the big man is still recovering from micro-fracture surgery in his knee. But he’s seen enough of his competition to know this next step is going to be a doozy.
“It’s the same people (as in college), they’re just a little faster and stronger,” Reed said. “It’s not a whole lot different. You’re still playing football. But the guys are a step above.
“They’re real experienced. They know what they’re doing. Sometimes they don’t fall for some of my tricks that used to work, so I have some improving to do, some new stuff I need to work on.”
And Reed will put in the time, count on that. His edge has always come from preparation, scouting, learning opponents’ tendencies and exploiting any advantage he can with his quickness and instincts.
Can he pull that off in the NFL? That’s a question the Seahawks coaches are asking as well as they see what they’ve got in their new rookie.
While most teams earmarked Reed’s future at linebacker, Seattle wants to see what he can do at defensive end.
“Every game film you put on in college you say, ‘There it is again.’ He has that relentless attitude you’re looking for,” said new Seahawks defensive line coach Dan Quinn. “So I’m anxious to see if he can transfer the things he does innately well and we can add some more things to what he does.”
Quinn notes that when he coached Jason Taylor with the Miami Dolphins, Taylor weighed just 244 pounds, though admittedly the one-time NFL MVP was a different style of player with a 6-5 frame.
He said Andre Carter played at about 255 pounds while he was with the 49ers as well.
“Nick is in that ballpark,” Quinn said. “There are not a lot of defensive ends that size, but there are some. It all comes back to if you’re a lighter guy, you have to play with a physical nature to still have that presence.
“When we’re playing we don’t say, ‘Well, he’s 248 or 255.’ He’s physical, he gets off the spot, he’s relentless. Those are the things we’re looking for.”
Reed had the same non-stop motor when he played at Mission Viejo High as a teammate of USC quarterback Mark Sanchez. He wasn’t a big-time recruit like Sanchez, but went about proving he belonged at the Pac-10 level as one of the league’s premier defenders.
Now he’s starting over again at the next level with even bigger challenges. He said he’s put on about 10 pounds since college, helped by the fact he graduated from Oregon last December and has been camped out in the weight room ever since.
He’s still living in Eugene, but has been to Seattle for the team’s offseason camps, including last week’s three-day session with veterans and rookies, and says he’s finding a comfort level of sorts.
“Sometimes I still find myself being a little star struck, seeing people you see on TV all the time, people who are making tons of money,” he said. “I just have to keep telling myself it’s just football.”
And Reed, whatever the tape measure says, has always been a football player.
“It’s a job now,” he said, glancing around the Seahawks massive practice facility. “But probably one of the better jobs you can have.
“Every kid grows up watching the NFL and dreaming about it. Sometimes I have to stop and look around and kind of take it all in. Which is hard to do right now because there is so much going on. But I try to do that at least once a day.”
And the Seahawks, they’re watching Reed as well. Quinn likes what he’s seen so far, but is eager to get the pads on Reed and the rest of the rookies to see what they look like in live action.
He acknowledged Reed has an uphill challenge at his size, but says there is a place for a player like him.
“In our system, there are roles for guys who play to the open side of a formation a lot,” Quinn said. “Some people might call them DPRs, designated pass rushers, who go in on nickel packages. Those are things that I would look for him to be a part of moving forward.
“In the first year there’s a lot to learn. But he’s got the right mindset going in. It’ll be critical where we go in training camp and how he plays in the preseason games to see if he can contribute or not.”
For the 21-year-old Oakland native, it’s all part of a familiar process. The stakes are higher now, the competition bigger, the teammates larger.
But it is still football. And playing this game, Nick Reed has always fit right in.
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