OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Before the draft, new Ravens wide receiver Keenan Reynolds sought advice from a former NFL player who understood the transition he’s currently going through.
Former Pittsburgh Steelers great Hines Ward began his career at the University of Georgia playing quarterback and running back before finally excelling at the wide receiver position. And after racking up 1,000 catches and more than 12,000 receiving yards in 14 NFL seasons, Ward was a valuable source of information for Reynolds.
After being drafted by the Ravens in the sixth round of last weekend’s draft, however, the former Navy quarterback knew he might receive flak for fraternizing with a former member of Baltimore’s AFC North rival.
“I know that’s like a cardinal sin in this building,” said Reynolds as he laughed. “We got to talk before the draft — to ease anybody’s mind. I talked to him, because in his college experience, he did play wide receiver, but he also played quarterback [and] running back. He was all over the place, so he had to adjust to the new role of being a permanent wide receiver. He gave me some tips and tricks and things to work on to perfect my craft.”
The Ravens have already said that they envision Reynolds as a slot receiver and a contributor in the return game. Though making it clear that he’s willing to play anywhere to succeed at the NFL level, the 21-year-old acknowledged it has been an adjustment realizing he would no longer be a quarterback after setting the FBS record with 4,559 rushing yards at the position.
In fact, Reynolds didn’t even learn that he’d work as a running back at the East-West Shrine until reading an article listing him at the running back position.
“When I got invited to the Shrine game, I saw that I wasn’t a quarterback anymore, and I was like, ‘Well, this is fun,'” said Reynolds, who scored more touchdowns than anyone in NCAA Division I history. “I was like, ‘This is an opportunity to pursue the dream at the next level,’ and I’m embracing it with everything I can. [There have] been several guys that have come before me that have been able to make the transition successfully, so I’ve been trying to model my game after them, talk to them, and just hear what they have to say.”
The 5-foot-11, 205-pound Reynolds has worked extensively with former Pro Bowl selection Brian Mitchell to learn the finer points of the return game. He wouldn’t be the first college quarterback to succeed as an NFL return specialist as Antwaan Randle El did it for the Steelers and New England’s Julian Edelman has thrived as both a receiver and returner more recently.
Reynolds even thinks his experience running the triple-option offense at Navy will better prepare him for his new role as a return specialist.
“I think there are some similar traits that you have to have on that level as a punt returner,” Reynolds said. “You have to be able to make quick decisions; you have to be quick in tight spaces, make a move and make somebody miss. Every day in practice, anytime we ran an inside run as a quarterback, we were making the safety miss, making the safety miss. That was something that coaches always ingrained in the quarterback’s head.
“Making that first guy miss and trying to make a play is what I was doing for the last four years.”
The Ravens love Reynolds’ character and athleticism, but he knows the transition won’t be easy as he’ll be competing with a deep group of receivers who have many more years of experience playing the position than he does.
But if his career at Navy was any indication, Reynolds will embrace the opportunity to succeed at the next level. He certainly doesn’t plan on allowing his work ethic to be questioned along the way.
“Every position has a technique that you have to perfect,” Reynolds said. “Guys have spent 10 [or] 15 years perfecting these techniques, and I’m a newborn in this position. I just have to work extremely hard — twice as hard as the next man — to get used to the position [and] get better at the technique.”