Wide receiver Josh Reynolds didn’t play much early on as a rookie.
He’d get a snap here or there, but he certainly wasn’t the major offensive contributor he is now.
When Los Angeles played Dallas back in Week 4 of 2017, for instance, he played only seven offensive snaps. But he was in on one of the highlight-reel plays of that game — running back Todd Gurley’s 53-yard touchdown reception.
And Reynolds was one of the major reasons that play went as long as it did, securing a downfield block to keep a running lane wide open for Gurley to get in the end zone.
More than a year later, Reynolds is making highlight-reel plays for himself. And, yes, that’s mainly because he’s become a starter for L.A. in the wake of wide receiver Cooper Kupp’s season-ending knee injury. But it’s also worth noting that head coach Sean McVay has long been referring to Reynolds as a starting-caliber receiver.
Now, he’s just proving why the coaching staff has given him that designation.
Starting the last six games of the season, Reynolds caught 22 passes for 304 yards with three touchdowns — two of which came in Week 17 against San Francisco. And all that playing time has put Reynolds in good position to contribute in the postseason.
“Confidence and definitely experience,” Reynolds said of what he’s gained with the increase in playing time. “For me, I’m good at learning on the board and all that, but I think it’s a difference being able to learn it just X’s and O’s or being able to go out and actually do it. I think that’s one thing that’s been helping me get more comfortable and actually being able to play fast, knowing the plays, and just experience — being able to see different defenses, coverages and all that.”
Head coach Sean McVay has noticed plenty of growth in Reynolds’ game as well.
“I just think the level of detail that he's playing with,” McVay said. “I think he's got an innate understanding of what we're trying to get done. You always hear us talk about the ownership of, what we're trying to get done, the intent of the play. I think the more experience that you're able to gain, especially when you're a smart, conscientious player like Josh (Reynolds), I think you're going to get better. He's certainly done that.
“He's made some big time plays, too. You just look at [him], he's got great length. I think he's got great body control for a player of his size and then you see him compete in the run game. He's digging out safeties and run support, allowing our backs to be able to bounce it on crack-replaced corners in the run game when some people are in some single-high structures,’ McVay continued. “So, Josh has really gotten better. I think [WRs coach] Eric Yarber's done a great job helping him develop. He's done an excellent job learning from some of the veterans that we have. I think he's demonstrated why we feel so strongly about him and why we believe he's a starting receiver in this league without a doubt.”
Reynolds deserves credit for the way he’s stepped up and performed when needed, but quarterback Jared Goff has also done a nice job of making sure the wideout is integrated into the offense. While wide receivers Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks have led the way — both reaching career highs with over 1,200 yards receiving — Goff has looked to Reynolds in a number of key situations.
“Me and Josh have grown together well. He's done a good job stepping in for Cooper,” Goff said. “Feel comfortable with him, as well as Robert and Brandin and we've done some good things, especially last game getting him two touchdowns. Yeah, I feel good with all of them.”
And that’s a good thing, because the quarterback will likely need all of his receivers to beat what’s been a very good Cowboys defense in 2018. Dallas finished the year No. 7 in overall defense, No. 6 in points allowed. The unit was middle of the pack against the pass, but No. 5 against the run in both total yards and yard per attempt.
So it stands to reason L.A. may need to use the pass to open up the run. But that doesn’t it’s going to be easy.
“Long guys — they got long, good speed guys that are always in the right spots like they are supposed to be,” Reynolds said of the Dallas defense. “They are definitely well-coached over there in Dallas and they fly around good too.”
Whatever Dallas’ defense brings out, how Reynolds performs could go a long way in determining the outcome. And while the young wide receiver didn’t play much in Los Angeles’ playoff appearance last year, he knows he’s about to play some big-time snaps in a big-time game.
“I’m excited for the atmosphere — excited for this new level of play I keep hearing about,” he said. “I’m excited to step my level up.”