TALLAHASSEE — The deep throw from Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder to receiver Rodney Smith worked so well the other day in practice that the Seminoles came right back to it on the next play.
But cornerback Greg Reid wasn't about to get beat again.
"Me and Rodney compete every day," he said. "He caught a ball on me, but (I told myself), 'I'll come back.' That's all I've got to say. I'll come back."
He did, launching his 5-8 frame skyward in time to bat the ball away from the 6-6 Smith.
"You think it's a good matchup for you," Ponder said of the height difference between his two teammates. "But Greg's so athletic and such a good player that he's able to make up for that. He's just a heck of a defender. He makes plays all over the place."
"That's just Greg," Smith said.
And the Seminoles sure hope — and expect — to see other teams realize that about the heralded sophomore from Valdosta, Ga. Reid played predominately in nickel packages last season but is expected to replace Patrick Robinson, a first-round pick of the Saints, and be a game-changer that the Seminoles pass defense lacked in 2009.
The Seminoles, historically one of the nation's stingiest defenses, allowed an average of nearly 435 total yards (108th out of 120 Division I-A teams) and 30 points a game (94th nationally) last season. They had just 14 interceptions — 10 fewer than national champion Alabama.
"We're going to be the best defense in the nation before the end of the year," Reid said, admitting that might sound a bit bold.
But that's just Greg being Greg.
He says what he thinks. And he has the tools to back up his brash talk. He's as fast, athletic and confident as any defensive back the Seminoles have had in years (which is why you just might see him on offense at times, too).
In last year's opener against Miami, Reid set up a critical interception return for a touchdown when he blitzed and crushed quarterback Jacory Harris as he was throwing. He had an interception in that hard-fought loss, then, a couple of weeks later, sealed a win against BYU by returning a pick 63 yards for a score.
"I'm a defensive guy," he said. "That's what I came here for."
Still, most of his "Oh-my-gosh-did-you-see-that?" moments came on special teams. He led the nation in punt returns, averaging 18.4 yards on 21 returns (including a 68-yarder for a touchdown in a win at Wake Forest that made FSU bowl eligible). And in the Gator Bowl, he returned the second-half kickoff 69 yards to set up a field goal that gave FSU the lead for good against West Virginia, allowing the Seminoles to send off Bobby Bowden in style.
"He's just a good football player," new FSU defensive coordinator Mark Stoops said. "He'd be a good offensive player. He's a great punt returner, kick returner, corner. He probably could play safety. If we told him to go in there and play defensive tackle for a couple plays, he'd probably do it. Those are good guys to have."
"I've come a long way," said Reid, who credits former defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews for allowing him to gain experience last season despite some miscues. "Last year, what I didn't understand is I've got to be calm. That's what I am now. I'm calm. I'm ready. I feel like I'm going to make plays."
He should have more opportunities to do that in Stoops' system, which relies more heavily on zone rather than Andrews' base of man-to-man defense. Still, Reid must learn not to go for the big play on every play.
"He's got great ability, he's very competitive, he's tough, he's instinctive and he loves to play ball," coach Jimbo Fisher said. "The thing about guys like that is … they're used to making so many big plays, but greatness is not always measured in great plays. Greatness is measured in consistency in performance every down."
Fisher said that's an every-day challenge for Reid, but he's learning the difference between a calculated gamble and a reckless attempt, and how to keep an even keel from play to play, no matter what happens.
"If they make a play, good, just go to the next play," Fisher said.
Reid actually followed his pass breakup in practice with another couple of big plays. Then on Sunday night, he knocked a sure completion away from freshman receiver Greg Dent, exuberantly crossing his arms afterward to make a point of what quarterbacks and receivers, even his own, can expect from him.
"I believe Ponder's got a little hard time," Reid said with a wry smile, "especially if he comes to my side."
Brian Landman can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3347.