The Carolina Panthers will likely start Eric Reid at safety on Sunday against the New York Giants, even though he has been in the building for just a few days.
Reid, who made the Pro Bowl in his rookie season in, hasn’t seemed to have lost a step despite being out of football for the last nine months, according to his new teammates.
“He’s a big guy to play the safety position,’” veteran cornerback Captain Munnerlyn laughted. “I was like ‘You’ve got to weigh 230. ... Because he looks like he’s just been lifting weights.
“He definitely can help this football team, he can help the secondary take that next step. We can definitely use him and I’m happy we signed him.”
And Reid’s happy to be back.
“Although I’ve been training five days a week, there’s nothing like being on the field taking on blocks, chasing down the fast guys,” he said. “I’m trying to get my conditioning up, and then just help the team. Hopefully I can make some plays, put us in a position to win games.”
Coaches are seeing that potential in Reid after just one practice.
He’s bigger than a protoypical safety at 6-foot-1 and 217 pounds, but he’s fast, with long arms. So he lends the type of versatility the Panthers love in their defensive backs and linebackers.
“His movement skills were there,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said of Reid’s first practice. “He was covering tight ends. He was running with wide receivers. He gives you an opportunity to have what looks like a safety, but can play in the post.
He can play the deep half, or he can play up in the box. With his ability to play in the box, and his skill set to run, you can play him as a big nickel. So it gives us position flexibility with him. He can play strong (safety) or free (safety) as well.
“Once he learns and understands the feel, I think you get another field general back there with he and Mike (Adams). I think those two guys will be a pretty formidable group.”
Rivera said Reid played 60 percent of the defensive snaps in Monday’s practice, the Panthers’ first workout following their Week 4 bye.
Already building chemistry
Reid was signed to a one-year deal by Carolina last Thursday (he said his former team, San Francisco, also made an offer but that the Panthers’ was better), and then spent most of the weekend meeting with defensive backs coach Richard Rodgers and immersing himself in the playbook.
Then Reid met the rest of the defensive backs for film study on Monday morning as Rivera listened in. All left the room really impressed with what Reid had picked up in such a short amount of time.
“He’s a very smart guy, I learned that just being around him this morning,” Munnerlyn said. “Some of the questions he was asking and they were asking him how he sees things ... I was like, ‘Wow, this guy is very intelligent. He knows the game of football.’”
Reid joins a secondary that includes steady third-year cornerback James Bradberry, Munnerlyn and veteran safety Mike Adams.
Plus, rookie cornerback Donte Jackson, a fellow LSU alumnus who has a team-high three interceptions in three games.
“I’m extremely excited to be working with Donte, because he did go to a great school,” Reid grinned. “He might not need help. He’s leading the team in interceptions, so maybe he can help me a little.”
The two are already playfully trash-talking each other and are in a friendly competition in practice for takeaways. Reid informed Jackson on Monday that now that he is on the roster, he has the best hands on the team.
Jackson jawed right back.
But, said Reid slyly on Monday afternoon, Jackson dropped two balls during Monday’s practice.
“I’ll just leave that out there,” he said with smile.
Collusion case continues
Off the field, Reid is involved in a lot more than football — a subject teammates and Rivera didn’t want to touch during Monday’s availability.
Reid wore an “#I’mWithKap” shirt in his introductory press conference to further emphasize his alliance with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and their shared protest of social injustice and police brutality.
Reid also made international headlines in 2016 as the first player to join Kaepernick in kneeling during the national anthem, as a demonstration against social injustice.
Reid went unsigned in free agency in 2018 until the Panthers picked him up after putting starter Da’Norris Searcy on injured reserve. Reid filed a collusion grievance against the NFL in May that is similar to the suit filed by Kaepernick, who is currently a free agent. It alleges that NFL owners colluded to deny work opportunity to the players because of their protest.
That case is ongoing, so Reid could not elaborate much on his time out of football because of the nature of the legal proceedings.
But he said that he will still focus his off-the-field efforts on empowering his community and battling inequality.
“Our goal is to use our platform to empower our people,” he said, “and to not only open the door for us, but to build our own building and have our own door. We want to encourage our people to be strong.”
What will that look like on Sundays? Reid said Monday that he hasn’t decided yet.
“Like I said, I will keep speaking for my people,” he said.
A few conversations
No Panthers have similarly demonstrated, although veteran defensive end Julius Peppers stayed inside the locker room for one game in 2017 after President Donald Trump called players who kneel “sons of bitches.”
Reid said nobody in the Panthers organization asked him about the protests before his signing, but that there have been a few conversations about it since.
But not with Rivera, according to the head coach, who said the two just talked football when they met last week.
Rivera also said that the Panthers had conversations with receiver Torrey Smith, a former teammate and close friend of Reid’s, to try to get to know Reid a little bit more before bringing him in. Smith spoke very highly of Reid last week, prior to the Panthers signing him.
“We most certainly heard it,” said Rivera. “And when you talk to Torrey about him, Torrey talks about his character and who he is as a person and that makes a lot of sense. As I said, when we were making a football decision we felt strongly about it.
“He has come in, he’s in great shape, he’s a guy who is really trying to learn and understand and fit in. I think he will fit very well into what we do as a football team.”