TAMPA — J.R. Reed still sounds like a safety as much as he sounds like a coach, so it should be easy for USF's defensive backs to relate to their new 27-year-old graduate assistant.
"Every time they lift, I'm going to lift. Every time they run, I'm going to run," said the former USF standout, who joins the Bulls after four seasons in the NFL, mostly with the Eagles. "I'm going to do drills with them, be more hands-on. That's the advantage. I'm still in my prime. I can still show them instead of just coaching them."
USF coach Jim Leavitt has brought back the Bulls' career interceptions leader (Reed had 18) to work at a key position. The Bulls will have three first-year starters in their nickel defense, which will be used plenty against a slew of spread offenses.
"He'll bring the same things he brought as a player: passion and excitement," said Leavitt, whose team opens preseason practice today. "When he played here, he taught the younger players how to play defense. I think he'll be one hell of a coach."
Reed, a star at Hillsborough High before he went to USF in 2000-03, went to the Super Bowl with the Eagles as a rookie in 2004.
In 2005, he sustained a severe nerve injury behind his left knee when he caught his leg jumping over a fence. Initially told he would never play again, Reed worked his way back to the league in 2006, first with the Rams and then the Falcons.
Back with the Eagles in 2007, he had 31 tackles. Philadelphia cut him midway through last season, and he latched on with the Jets but never made it into a game.
When he wasn't signed by late July this year, he talked with Leavitt, who agreed to bring him on with the understanding he can leave if an NFL team calls for him.
"I have the best of both worlds," Reed said. "I want to stay ready."
If his playing days are finished, Reed said, he's at peace with that, much more so than if he hadn't been able to return from his injury.
"It's still tough. It's always tough to finish," he said. "I was able to get back and do it, and if I don't play now, it's just a numbers game, and there's younger players coming in.
"I'm expecting to get a call, but if I don't, this is the next-best thing."
Reed said his time in Philadelphia allowed him to learn from two great defensive coaches: defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, who died last week after a seven-month battle with cancer, and Sean McDermott, the defensive backs coach who has succeeded Johnson.
"(McDermott) taught me a lot about paying attention to detail, teaching me every step of the way how to be a good coach without even knowing it," Reed said.
Having Reed to work with the defensive backs gives new defensive coordinator Joe Tresey more time to work with the entire defense. Tresey has already found that Reed has made the most of his time playing for some of the NFL's top defensive minds.
"He was a very attentive guy, absorbed everything," Tresey said. "He can spit out some really good information. You always wonder what a guy in the NFL is going to be like coming into this situation. You're not sure if he's got one foot out the door. … He's been outstanding. He's going to be a great asset to us, not just because he played here but because of the person he is and the way he approaches the game."
Reed remembers seeing the long hours that his USF defensive coordinator, Rick Kravitz, worked, wondering then how coaches could handle the heavy demands of the job.
"I'm going to work hard. The hours are going to be long, and I'm going to find time to train, just in case I do get a call (from the NFL)," Reed said.
Staff writer Greg Auman can be reached at email@example.com and at (813) 226-3346. Check his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/usf and follow him at Twitter.com/gregauman.