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Hot Read: Clock's ticking on Reynolds

Jamal Reynolds might be chasing quarterbacks named Collins and Johnson this NFL preseason, but those second-stringers might as well have "Last" and "Chance" written across the backs of their jerseys.<p>

Surely, this will be the final opportunity for the 10th overall pick of the 2001 NFL Draft to prove he's anything close to the player the Packers thought they were getting.

Touted as the best pure pass rusher coming out of college that year, the former Florida State Seminole was expected to step into a starter's role at defensive end and provide instant pass rush. Instead, he's been a non-factor through his first two seasons in Green Bay. Inactive for 10 games as a rookie and nine last season, he's spent more time on the Packer sideline in street clothes than he has in a uniform.

When Green Bay drafted Reynolds, they accepted that he was a bit undersized at 6-foot-3, 267 pounds and might struggle at times against the run. But they were enamored with his 4.6 speed (in the 40-yard dash) and the way he seemed almost magnetically drawn to opposing quarterbacks.

As the nations' top collegiate lineman in 2000, he won the Lombardi Award (which you'd think would be a good sign for Green Bay, of all teams). He led his team with 58 tackles and 12 sacks as a senior and helped FSU win the National Championship as a junior, bagging Virginia Tech's Michael Vick three times in the 2000 Sugar Bowl.

Now Reynolds is just trying to be on the field at the same time as Vick, who went No. 1 overall in 2001.

After hyper-extending his left knee during his rookie training camp, Reynolds returned in mid-September, but could've taken his time. It wasn't until Dec. 3 that he made his professional debut, notching a fumble-causing sack of Jacksonville's Mark Brunell in a Monday night victory. Active for the remainder of the season, he showed just enough to make you think better days might be on the horizon.

Off-season arthroscopic knee surgery had him behind again for the start of 2002 and it was clear early on that it would be another lost season. When defensive ends Joe Johnson and Vonnie Holliday were struck with injuries last season, Reynolds was more afterthought than option.

It was Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and rookie fifth-rounder Aaron Kampman who picked up the slack. And when Kampman broke his hand, ex-Packer Keith McKenzie was signed off the street four days before the teams' Nov. 24 game at Tampa Bay to take Reynolds spot on the active roster.

Only a pulled hamstring by McKenzie two weeks later got Reynolds back into the game. Making the most of his opportunity, he showed a spark in games against Buffalo (two hits on Drew Bledsoe) and New York (a sack of Chad Pennington) to close the regular season.

By all accounts, Reynolds seems to be a hard worker and good guy who wants to perform up to everyone's expectations -- including his own. But so far he's been unable to deliver the goods on a consistent basis. The speed is there, but if he can't get outside the offensive tackle in the first couple steps, he hasn't displayed the necessary hand technique to separate from the block.

Where's a Judo instructor when you need one?

After two good mini-camps and a decent start to training camp in 2003, it would be overly optimistic to say Reynolds has turned the corner. Still, his play in the preseason opener against Kansas City provided some encouragement. He blew by tackle Willie Jones in the first quarter, dropping quarterback Todd Collins and causing a fumble that teammate Kenny Peterson recovered. It was one of several plays where Reynolds flashed his speed.

But that was upstaged by linebacker Marcus Wilkins, who looked even speedier collecting three sacks during the storm-shortened 9-0 loss.

The fact that Packer Coach and GM Mike Sherman had praise for Reynolds afterwards was a good sign, even if it was lumped in with some for Wilkins.

"There were some good things that I was excited about," Sherman said. "It looks like we can still rush the quarterback a little bit. Wilkins stepped up and did a couple nice things. Jamal Reynolds had a nice pass rush."

Reynolds is listed behind Gbaja-Biamila at right end, but still faces stiff competition for a roster spot from a host of rookies, free agents and vets. There's also Kampman, who's listed at tackle but proved he can play end, and Wilkens, who took Reynold's spot in the Packers dime defense last year and is looking to line up across from KGB on passing downs this season. Both factors could make Reynolds expendable.

Even former Packer GM Ron Wolf, one of the main parties responsible for drafting Reynolds acknowledged that it's make or break time for the third-year pro. In an interview with Packer radio broadcasters Larry McCarren and Wayne Larrivee after the Chiefs'game, Wolf said he wouldn't shy away from the dreaded "B" word if Reynolds can't put it all together this time around.

The "B" word, of course, being "Bust."

Editor's note: W. Keith Roerdink is a freelance writer from Wausau, Wis. and a regular contributor to the Packer Report.


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