Taylor Reed is feeling at home in the Ottawa REDBLACKS linebacking corps.
That’s good for him, as he’s playing perhaps his best football of the season at the right time. That’s also good for the REDBLACKS, as they prepare to face the tall task of stopping the Edmonton Eskimos’ ground game, in this Sunday’s Eastern Final, in Ottawa.
“We have to do a good job of stopping him early and stopping him often,” says Reed, who is affectionately called “Tank” by his friends. The “him” he was referring to was John White, the Edmonton running back who ripped the Hamilton defence for 160 yards and two touchdowns last week, on the way to a 24-21 win in the Eastern Semi-Final.
If White is reaching the peak of his powers at precisely the right time, so is Reed who has been flying around, lately, on that Ottawa defence.
It has meant that the REDBLACKS’ linebacking trio – Damaso Munoz and Jerrell Gavins round out the starting group – has been very productive over the last few weeks of the season.
“It’s fun out there,” says Reed. “Being out there with Gavins and ‘Maso, it’s so fun. I love the way both of ‘em play.”
It is apparent that the 25-year-old Reed’s presence in Ottawa has been mutually beneficial for both he and the team that he joined midway through the season. Reed’s abilities have helped ignite the defence. His teammates have helped him quickly get his own game to a comfortable level, one where he his freewheeling with confidence, dropping to cover passing lanes or charging up to squash the run.
“Everybody has their strengths and their weaknesses and their different personalities,” says Reed, pointing out some of the variables to be taken into consideration when building a unit’s camaraderie. He says he and his mates have found a groove, one where they can anticipate each other’s moves and then react accordingly.
“That’s really what it’s all down to, man. You don’t wanna be robots out there. You wanna make sure they feel comfortable playing the way they’re used to playing. Also, they have to get used to the way you play.”
Tank Reed has found a place to be used to, after his original 2016 season plans were unceremoniously changed.
After spending two seasons with the Ticats, Reed was in another place to begin the 2016 season and that place was Calgary. He figured to be at the defensive centre of the Stampeders’ run towards a potential championship, taking over for veteran stalwart Juwan Simpson, who hadn’t been re-signed by the Stamps. However, with the rise of rookie Alex Singleton, who took over the starting job in the middle as the annual Labour Day clash with Edmonton unfolded, Reed found himself a free agent.
But not for long. The REDBLACKS, looking for some fortification on a defence that wasn’t quite what it was in 2015, signed Reed almost immediately after he was released.
“They treated as though I was there from the get-go, treated me like family,” says Reed, who played specials against the Stampeders during a Week 13 game and then got into the starting defensive rotation the following week against Toronto.
“They treated as though I was there from the get-go, treated me like family.”
Taylor Reed on signing with Ottawa
His inclusion on the Ottawa roster allowed defensive coordinator Mark Nelson to make an adjustment in the REDBLACKS’ evolving defence. While Munoz had shifted inside to the play the middle – and play it pretty well – Reed’s presence meant the sixth-year vet could bounce back out to the weak side linebacker (WILL) position.
“Tank came at a good time, because ‘Maso had been kinda beat up and it was a nice refresher for him to get back to WILL and give us an opportunity where we could do some different things again,” says Nelson, adding that weak side linebacker might be more of a natural position for Munoz to play.
The move has worked well. Munoz – who Reed calls “a great leader for this defence, this team” – hasn’t missed a beat and last week claimed an East All-Star berth while Reed kept on getting better in the middle, topping out with 12 tackles against the Blue Bombers in a Week 19 victory in Winnipeg. “I don’t think I would have been able to pick up the defence as quick as I did if it wasn’t for ‘Maso helping me,” Reed says. “He’s such a great player. He deserved his all-star this year for sure.”
In seven starts with Ottawa, Reed totalled 39 tackles and a sack, while adding two special teams tackles to the mix. All tolled, he was in on 80 tackles during the regular season, ranking him ninth in the category. It wasn’t that Reed’s numbers in Calgary were a disappointment, as he gathered 41 tackles in eight starts, even though he was being spelled by Singleton on a regular basis as the Stampeders began the shift towards the youngster. In other words, Reed’s story isn’t really one of redemption as he didn’t need to be redeemed for anything at all.
Instead, it’s the story of the right guy being available at the right time for Ottawa, as Nelson suggests.
If Reed’s presence has indeed been the catalyst the REDBLACKS had been looking for on defence, for Nelson, it’s been more than just a matter of gaining a talented, experienced linebacker to execute his game plans.
“First of all, Tank’s a fine young man,” says Nelson when asked what it is that the native of Beaumont, Texas, has brought to Ottawa. “A very team-oriented guy. He’s not an “I” guy. A good person who happens to be a real good football player.”
“He’s a good person to have around and you like to have those guys that are good people. Then you really like ‘em when they’re good football players, too,” Nelson adds with a laugh.
The REDBLACKS like having him around. Reed likes being around them, too, with glowing things to say about Nelson in return. “He’s a smart guy. he’s been around this league,” Reed says of Ottawa’s DC. “He’s open to seeing how you see things. That’s the biggest thing I like about playing with him.”
If Nelson and Munoz have been important in Reed’s quick assimilation, so has Gavins, the 28-year-old veteran who shifted into the cover linebacker spot in the same game that Reed made his Ottawa debut. The third year REDBLACK has been flourishing there and Reed is appreciative.
“He’s small but he plays so big,” Reed raves. “He might be one of the most aggressive SAMS I’ve seen in this league. He plays with a ferocious style.”
Tank Reed’s arrival – and the mutual lift it has provided both the player and the team – has helped see to that.
Make no mistake about it, the Ottawa REDBLACKS – while aware of the potency of Edmonton’s passing attack – believe their top job in the Eastern Final is to put the brakes on John White (and Shakir Bell if it comes to it) and the running game.
“For us to do what we need to do, you know, we’re gonna have to stop the run,” says Nelson, who will lean heavily on Reed and Munoz to wrap up the Eskimos’ running backs. “We do a lot of different things so both of them have responsibility but both of them are good run stoppers. That’s good, especially this week.”
While Munoz and Reed will need to be at their best, Nelson points out that it won’t mean much if they don’t get help up front.
“Linebackers aren’t going to be able to do it unless the D line does their job,” says Nelson, adding that he’s been pleased with the way his defence has looked in practices this week.
It’s a big challenge for Ottawa’s front four rotation. Edmonton’s offensive line has been a big reason for White’s ascent as a rusher late in the season. Reed agrees with that assessment.
“They’re mauling guys and they’re looking real good on film,” he says, before giving White, himself, his due. “John White has found his stride,” says Reed. “He brings a lot to the table. He’s quick, he’s patient, he’s a good blocker. The list goes on. All the boxes that you’d check, he is that.”