ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — He is friendly, easy with the smile, thick with his Alabama drawl, smart and thoughtful in conversation.
He is aggressive, ferocious against the guy he faces, mean when as greetings are finished, smart and aware in his thoughts.
He is Malik Reed the well-raised, nice young man from Dothan, Alabama and National Honor Society high school student who graduated from the University of Nevada with a degree in public health.
He is also Malik Reed the Broncos’ backup pass rusher and the team’s only undrafted rookie who made the 53-man roster through his near crazed attacks on the quarterbacks during the preseason.
“Family members and people I know tell me all the time: You’re so much different when you’re on the field than when you’re off the field,’’ Reed said in a sit-down interview with 9News this week. “When I’m off the field I’m kind of quiet, to myself and get along with everybody, really.
“And then once I get on the field it just seems like a switch flips and it’s go time.”
The Broncos started training camp seven weeks ago with 90 players and each of the 37 who didn’t make it had a chance to pull off an upset like Reed. Yes, Reed got a “premium” undrafted rookie bonus of $15,000 to sign with the Broncos out of the University of Nevada, but quarterback Brett Rypien ($146,000) and defensive back Alijah Holder ($30,000) got far more lucrative guarantees as college free agents and they didn’t make the 53.
Reed earned his way to playing Monday night (8:20 p.m. scheduled kickoff on Channel 20 with pregame at 7 p.m.) against the Oakland Raiders through his dominant preseason play.
In just three preseason games, Reed had a team-most 4.0 sacks. He had a sack against Atlanta in the Hall of Fame Game, then utilized a terrific spin move to down Seattle’s Geno Smith in the second game.
Reed hit Smith with such force he was lucky he didn’t draw an unnecessary roughing penalty.
The whirly-bird move was learned from a famous pass-rushing duo but not the one playing in front of him in Denver.
“I started working on it toward the end of my career at Nevada,’’ Reed said. “I watched a lot of the older guys like (the Colts’) Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. I know they had a spin move in their game so I watched a lot of film on them and just tried to incorporate it into my game.’’
After a pulled oblique muscle caused Reed to miss preseason games against the 49ers and Rams, he sacked Arizona quarterbacks Brett Hundley and Drew Anderson in the fifth and final preseason game. Team made.
“It’s amazing,’’ Reed said. “Amazing opportunity to be here. Such a blessing. Thankful to the people important to me who helped me get to this point. Excited to get going.”
Reed was so impressive during the preseason, it’s befuddling why he didn’t get drafted. He faced higher quality offensive tackles and quarterbacks in the NFL preseason than he did in the Mountain West Conference. What did 32 teams miss through the first seven rounds and 254 picks in the draft?
“It’s interesting. I don’t know how the front offices does its drafting, but I stayed true to myself,’’ Reed said. “Whether I got drafted or not, I said I was going to come in head down, ready to work, continue to get better.”
Elite athletes like Reed, Von Miller and Bradley Chubb are so incredibly gifted with a combination of strength and burst, it’s somewhat surprising they wind up in a niche slot like pass rusher – even if it’s a highly-paid niche. Reed was born with athletic genes. He said his mom, Michelle, was a women’s softball player for a while at Florida A&M. His dad, Anthony Reed, finished as Troy State’s all-time leading men’s scorer, a distinction he held for 18 years. Anthony Reed is still No. 3 on since renamed Troy University’s career scoring list.
Troy career scoring leaders:
1) Wes Parsons (2014-18) - 2,063 points
2) Jordan Varnado (2015-19, graduated in 19)- 1,917
3) Anthony Reed (1986-90)- 1,865
4) Mac Madison (1980-84)- 1,761
Anthony Reed was elected into Troy’s Hall of Fame in 2014, where his classmate was Osi Umenyiera, the great New York Giants’ defensive lineman. Malik Reed followed mom and dad’s sports for a while before veering off into football full-time as a junior in high school.
“I was a huge baseball fan growing up,’’ he said. “My dad played basketball. I was a huge basketball fan growing up, too. I feel like playing all those sports helps you become a better athlete because you know how to react in certain situations and thinking through the game. I feel like to be a great pass rusher you have to really think on your feet and react to what your offensive lineman is giving you.’’
A defensive end until his senior year at Nevada, when he switched to outside linebacker, Reed might have been considered “too small” as a D-end at 6-foot-1, 250 pounds by NFL scouts until it was too late. He’s listed as 6-2, 235 pounds with the Broncos.
After the draft passed without Reed receiving a phone call, he started becoming popular during the seventh round. The Broncos weren’t the only team who tried to reach agreement with Reed once the draft was finished.
“Throughout the process people kept telling me how great an organization the Broncos had,’’ he said. “And to have the opportunity to come in and learn from a Von Miller and from a Bradley Chubb, I felt like was an opportunity you couldn’t pass up and I feel God led me in this direction for a reason to be able to continue to grow here. And I’m glad I am here.”
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