You might keep that in mind as we watch Jamal Reynolds' first season in the NFL unfold. His story is nothing terribly new. Top pick, big money, and equally big expectations. The Packers were hoping Reynolds would provide an instant pass rushing impact. That was their wish.
Unfortunately, that hasn't been reality. At least not yet.
Reynolds has struggled in practices as well as the lone game he played in before press time. (Don't let his picture fool you. When it comes to deadlines PR Editor Todd Korth hasn't changed. He's still a tyrant!) Initially, I thought his trouble in practice was due mostly to Chad Clifton's blocking prowess, and while that's certainly a factor, nobody has accused the Browns' offensive tackles of being budding All-Pro's. Yet they too were able to neutralize Reynolds for the most part. Hmmm. Perhaps a closer look at the situation is in order.
I was watching Jamal at practice last week and I saw a very conscientious football player. A player who listened intently to everything Coach Jethro Franklin was saying and then did his level best to execute it. I know this sounds stupid (won't be the first time) but at this point in time, those qualities, qualities that will help him over the long haul, may actually be hurting Reynolds.
Here's a guy who's thinking about everything he's being taught, trying to execute it just the way it's taught, and pretty soon he's trying to do so much so well that it's hard to do anything right. All that natural athletic ability, and Reynolds has plenty, just might be getting lost in the mental overload wash.
For example, this past week Jethro has been hammering home four points: Get-off, pad level, gap integrity, and footwork. For a few guys, it's in one ear and out the other. (And they'll be out the door before long.) For most, it'll make an impact but not to the point where they don't have to be reminded every so often. (In football-speak that means at the start of every practice.) And for guys like Reynolds, those four points will be taken to heart.
As a conscientious player who's serious about improving, Jamal will try to explode on the snap count while keeping his pads low while taking care of his gap responsibility while using the proper footwork. And that's exactly what you want in a player! The problem is it's tough to do all at once when most, if not all of it, is new. ("New" may be a bad choice of words. It's just that the level of precision in a player's techniques required in the NFL is so much greater than at the college level. The technique itself may not be new, but the need to execute it "just so" is.)
You might say to yourself, "Self, why have him try to do all that. Why not have him worry about one thing and the heck with the rest." That approach would make a lot of sense if it weren't for the chain reactions inherent in the game of football. Getting off the ball quick is nothing more than exercise unless it's accompanied by a low pad level. Then a player can gain the leverage advantage. Of course that advantage won't mean a thing if the player's feet are crossed because he'll get knocked off balance. And none of it amounts to squat if a player isn't where he's supposed to be. That would leave a hole in the defense. One thing leads to another and another and another.
That's why a lot is being thrown at Reynolds and while the learning curve is steep, and currently tough and frustrating, he'd never get to the top without at least starting out in the right direction.
As helpful to the Packers' cause as it would be, it's still unrealistic to say that Jamal's going to be able to think less and react more in the next day or two. Timetables are very individual things. In some cases, the light goes on and suddenly there's a dramatic improvement, but that's rare. Most rookies, even first rounders, improve just a little bit week to week. Almost all benefit greatly from that first off-season when they go home and think about it. A few never get it and wind up being called "busts."
Reynolds' attitude is bust-proof but he will have to be very precise with his techniques as he's not the biggest guy in the world. Pure speed is good enough in college, but he'll need more in the NFL. From what I've seen, he's got the desire to go after it, but it could take some time. Let's not forget that.