Keenan Reynolds will never forget his final game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
Reynolds wrapped up his spectacular career as a four-year starting quarterback for Navy by leading a 44-28 rout of Pittsburgh in the Military Bowl on Dec. 28, 2015. He scored three rushing touchdowns that day, increasing his career total to 88 and breaking a tie with Louisiana Tech running back Kenneth Dixon, a Ravens teammate now, for the NCAA all-time record.
He also notched his only collegiate reception in that game, providing a foreboding of his NFL future. It was a trick play with Reynolds pitching to fullback Shawn White then sneaking out of the backfield. White lofted a pass into the flat and Reynolds caught it, cutting inside to snag the pass in front of an approaching safety then racing 47 yards after the catch.
Those memories will come flooding back to Reynolds Saturday when he puts on a football uniform and takes the field at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium for the first time since that farewell performance in the Military Bowl. And he will continue his quest to make the NFL as a wide receiver and returner.
There will no doubt be a large contingent of Navy fans in attendance cheering for Reynolds, who spent all of last season on the Ravens’ practice squad.
“I’m really excited that I get to go back. A lot of great, great memories in that stadium. We had a lot of success there, didn’t lose very much,” Reynolds said this week. “It will be exciting to see everybody, and have them see me in a football uniform again. Other than that, it’s just another practice and I need to continue to work on what I need to work on.”
Coach John Harbaugh lamented that Reynolds had limited opportunities during the team’s first open practice, held last Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium. Harbaugh acknowledged it would be fitting for Reynolds to make some plays on his old stomping grounds.
“Keenan — I really think he has made a lot of progress. He has done some good things at practice that you guys have seen. He has really flashed,” Harbaugh said. “I hope he shows it. There would be no better place for him to break out a little bit. Keenan is in the heat of it. He is competing for a spot and doing very well.”
Baltimore made Reynolds a sixth-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft and announced plans to convert him into a receiver and returner. It has been a difficult transition for the Tennessee native, who has played quarterback since starting football at the Pop Warner level.
“Just looking back a year ago, it’s kind of a blur. I was brand new at everything – just learning how to get off the line, the slight adjustments you make while running routes, being able to get in and out of breaks quicker. That’s all things that I struggled with last year,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds had a particularly difficult time fielding punts, a task that seemed like his best ticket to making the Ravens. He showed enough potential to earn a spot on the practice squad after clearing waivers.
Wide receivers coach Bobby Engram was encouraged that Reynolds tried hard to give the defense a good look as a member of the scout team and stayed late to work on fundamentals and techniques. The Ravens coaching staff has gushed about the improvement Reynolds has made in all areas.
“I was just telling Keenan, I was very pleased with his progress. He has made a tremendous learning curve,” said Engram, who played wide receiver in the NFL for 15 seasons. “The key for him to figure out how to take that next step as a receiver, and that is what he is working diligently on. I think Keenan has made tremendous strides all the way around – from route-running to releases to his break transitions. We just have to see if he can continue to make those next steps.”
By all accounts, four wide receivers are a lock to make the opening day roster – projected starters Jeremy Maclin and Mike Wallace along with Breshad Perriman and Chris Moore. Michael Campanaro is the early favorite to earn a berth based off his proven ability as a returner.
That leaves Reynolds battling with six other candidates for one or two spots. An ability to play multiple special teams will be the difference when choosing those last couple receivers. Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg, like Engram, said Reynolds has come a long way.
He acknowledged the difficulty of converting a career-long quarterback into a receiver-returner, noting the Ravens were trying to “make Keenan into something else for our league.” Rosburg has been impressed by how quickly the 5-foot-10, 190-pounder has adjusted.
“I think Keenan has improved remarkably over the past year. I don’t coach receivers, but I see him catching the ball over the middle, I see his toughness blocking, I see all those skills that have gotten better on a daily basis,” Rosburg said. “From a special teams aspect, he’s catching the ball so much better as a returner. That is really going to be the difference for Keenan, who wasn’t a returner when he got here. Can he prove over time that you can learn how to do it?”
Reynolds knows this is an important training camp and that not many players are placed on a team’s practice squad two years in a row. He appreciates hearing that Harbaugh, Engram and Rosburg have been complimentary, but knows those are just words.
“It’s encouraging, but it’s not enough for me. You know what I’m accustomed to. I want to be great. That’s the level that I aspire to. I aspire to greatness,” Reynolds said. “I don’t want to be just another guy that said he played in the league. I want to be one that is remembered.”