Joe Reed stepped onto the field Sunday for the first time in his NFL career and quickly showed what Virginia fans have seen for years: he’s a gifted kickoff returner.
The rookie from UVa didn’t have a chance to compete in a preseason contest this year due to COVID-19, meaning his first game action in an NFL uniform came in a regular-season game. Reed and the Los Angeles Chargers opened the season on the road against the Cincinnati Bengals, and while the speedster from Virginia didn’t have much of a preseason to prepare for Week 1, he showed why the Chargers drafted him.
After one week of NFL games, Reed holds the longest kick return in the NFL. He returned a kickoff 46 yards, setting up the Chargers’ only touchdown in a 16-13 win.
“I’m just happy I had the opportunity,” Reed said. “I had a couple touchbacks; they had a couple of squibs. I told myself if I had the opportunity to take one out of the end zone, I was just gonna do my best to make an impact.”
He certainly made an impact, bobbing and weaving his way through defenders on the left side of the field. Reed did an excellent job seeing blocks and patiently hitting holes to turn a good return into a great return.
Reed told media members Monday that the kickoff return scheme features similarities to UVa’s, and he feels comfortable with what the special teams coaches want from him in the return game. When it comes to executing a kick return in the NFL compared to college, Reed says it’s similar.
There is one major difference, though.
“Not too much different, other than everybody’s a lot faster,” Reed said with a smile. “The holes open and close a lot faster than they do in college, so that’s one thing that I noticed on my first return. It’s a learning experience just to have quicker vision, quicker reaction skills.”
Also a wide receiver, Reed enters Week 2 still seeking his first reception.
While he wasn’t involved much offensively, Reed did see the field for three offensive snaps and nine special teams plays, according to numbers from Pro Football Reference. The Chargers typically rely on Keenan Allen and Mike Williams as their two top receivers, so finding consistent playing time at receiver could take a few weeks for Reed.
The rookie felt a few jitters before the game, but Week 1 served as an opportunity to get a taste of what NFL action is like.
“I felt nervous,” Reed said. “It was a mixture of being both nervous and excited, kind of a weird feeling. I think I was more excited than nervous, but I definitely felt the nerves tingling before the game, but after my first play, I was good to go.”
Reed took the field on punt coverage early, which helped him gain a feel for the game as the nerves slowly dissipated.
While Reed still has plenty of room to improve offensively to earn more snaps, he landed on the Chargers roster in part due to his ability to impact the game on special teams. With a 46-yard kickoff return in his first return as a professional, Reed is off to a great start in his return role.
“I know how important special teams is to win a football game, so I just did what I could to help spark the football team,” Reed said.
Reed found time in the whirlwind of opening his NFL career to take a quick picture with former UVa defensive lineman and current Cincinnati Bengal Andrew Brown. A few former Virginia coaches saw the image and reached out to Reed about the picture and his Week 1 performance.
Though he’s 2,500 miles away from Charlottesville, Reed felt the Virginia connection when wide receivers coach Marques Hagans, head coach Bronco Mendenhall, special teams coordinator Ricky Brumfield and former UVa defensive line coach Vic S’oto reached out.
“Andrew Brown and I took a picture together and Coach Mendenhall texted us and told us he loved us,” Reed said. “I heard from Coach Brumfield. I heard from Coach Hagans. I heard from Coach S’oto, one of my older coaches, so I heard from quite a bit of the staff yesterday, which was very nice.”
With a support system behind him, Reed hopes to build on his first NFL game. When asked if teams and fans should expect more dynamic returns from Reed, he was succinct in his response.