Reynolds says he hasn't lost confidence

Packers defensive end Jamal Reynolds feeds his NFL dream with small portions these days. The little things keep him going, sustain him, nourish him. The nod of a coach's head when he makes a nice move in a pass rushing drill. A sentence - or even a word - of encouragement from a teammate. The afternoons when he feels no pain in his surgically-repaired left knee. The memory of his first career sack last season.<p>

Reynolds survived a rough rookie season, fraught with injuries and frustration. This year, he's prepared to work as hard as he can to disprove anyone ready to slap the "bust" tag on him. He tries to keep the pain of his sore knee out of his mind at every training camp session. He works tirelessly to learn pass rushing moves in one-on-one drills against the team's offensive linemen.

"I'm so antsy to get out there and make some plays," said the 6-foot-3, 265-pound Reynolds. "It was frustrating watching everyone else have fun last season. But just getting out there and making the few plays I could showed me that I could do it at the next level. Now, I just want to get more consistent. I want to get to a high level and stay at that level."

Reynolds, Green Bay's first pick of the 2001 NFL draft, came to the team with high expectations. He was the team's designated pass-rushing savior. He had size, strength and speed. Packers defensive coordinator Ed Donatell raved about his explosiveness. He was the tonic for Green Bay's ancient and ailing defensive line.

But he hurt his knee in training camp and never really recovered. He was inactive for the first 10 games of the season. He played in the last six, making four tackles and recording two sacks and two forced fumbles. He saw action in the team's two playoff games. It wasn't the great start in a glorious career for the green and gold that everyone - especially Reynolds - thought it would be.

"The hardest thing was watching from the sideline," Reynolds said. "Coming from a big program at Florida State, and being a starter, you have big expectations about the next level. Standing on the sidelines really wasn't in my plans."

The Packers planned to make Reynolds the cornerstone of a new, fast, strong defensive line. Green Bay picked him 10th overall in the draft after trading backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck to Seattle to move up seven spots.

Reynolds wowed the Packers by winning the Lombardi Award as the nation's best lineman in 2000. In his senior season at Florida State he recorded 58 tackles, 12 sacks and forced four fumbles. In 1999 he had seven sacks, including three in Florida State's 46-29 win over Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl to help the Seminoles win the national championship.

This season, the former college star and former No. 1 draft pick stays after practice with the low round draft picks, the free agents, and defensive line coach Jethro Franklin to learn the finer points of pass rushing.

"It's good to have Jethro stay after practice and work us hard," he said. "All the extra work will benefit us. It's good he takes the time out to help us like that. Sure, he yells. He gets on you, man. He's just trying to get you inspired to get out there, get your boots up, and play hard."

Franklin gives Reynolds his share of screams and intimidating stares. But he also has high hopes for the former Seminole. "We'll see how he does. He's in a tremendous situation," Franklin said. "He has shown he is ready. I'm confident about him getting it done, and he's confident about getting him done."

Confidence is something Reynolds always will have, no matter how tough the going gets. "You have to have confidence in yourself, always," he said. "If you don't have it in yourself, no one else will. You're going to make mistakes no matter if you're a starter or a third-team guy. It's something you have to work through, and put yourself through to get better."

Reynolds seems to have a better grasp on the mental part of the game, and that's a great first step, said defensive coordinator Donatell. "Jamal has been around out team for a year and he has a greater understanding of what is expected," he said. "He had a temporary setback in the offseason, but we have him scheduled to be ready to play and be very effective for us when we kick it off in September. He's been sidetracked a bit, but there's no reason he can't get back on pace and have an outstanding career."

Reynold's pro career began before a national audience on Monday Night Football on Dec. 3, 2001 against the Jacksonville Jaguars. He flashed tantalizing signs of his speed and strength by providing a consistent rush against quarterback Mark Brunell, and ended the game by sacking Brunell and causing him to fumble. He turned the same trick at Lambeau Field against the Cleveland Browns on Dec. 30, 2001 when he sacked quarterback Tim Couch and forced him to drop the ball. He played in playoff games against the San Francisco 49ers and the St. Louis Rams, and registered a pressure in each one.

But Reynolds knows he can do better than that. The expectations of last season are still there, but they dwarf what Reynolds himself thinks - believes - what he can do.

"There's always pressure," he said. "You put pressure on yourself to get better every day. Staying after and working hard, that's one thing that helps you do that. You try to make strides. You have to push through and try to make something happen. That's what I'm trying to do right now."


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