JACKSONVILLE – Jaguars linebacker LaRoy Reynolds has a very specific goal as a special teams leader during the 2015 season, his third in the National Football League.
"I'm going to be the bell cow, and I'm going to be the best special teams player in the league," Reynolds said after an organized team activities practice in June.
"Every (special teams) phase I'm going to give everything I've got, whether it's punt, kickoff, kickoff return, punt return – I'm going to set the tone. When they turn on the film, they will say, 'All right, this is how you do it. This is how you're supposed to do it.'"
Reynolds has played in 28 games in two NFL seasons with three starts at linebacker. He led the team with 10 special teams tackles in 2014, and his six special teams tackles in 2013 were third-best on the team.
Most fans remember his helmetless tackle of Indianapolis Colts punt returner Griff Whalen in the 2013 season finale – "all gas, no brake," Reynolds said – but for Reynolds, the plays impacting the outcome of games stand out even more.
In the Jaguars' first victory of the 2013 season, against the Titans in Nashville, they led 20-13 with just over eight minutes to play in the fourth quarter and were forced to punt from just inside Titans territory. Reynolds downed the punt at the Titans 1, but two plays later, the Jaguars defense drew a safety on offensive holding in the end zone for a 22-13 lead. The Jaguars ended up winning 29-27.
"You can win a game by two points or lose by two points if you down the ball on the (one)-yard line, the defense gets a safety … it just shows how pivotal it is," Reynolds said. "Last year a lot of games that we came close to winning or came to win it was due to a couple of special teams plays by guys."
In Week 6 at Tennessee in 2014, the Jaguars trailed 16-14 with 43 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. Reynolds recovered an onside kick by Josh Scobee, giving the Jaguars an opportunity for one final drive to try to win the game. The potential game-winning field goal was blocked, but the opportunity to win was set up by the timely special teams play by Reynolds.
The following week, the Jaguars led 10-6 in the fourth quarter and were forced to punt the ball back to the Cleveland Browns offense. Reynolds' recovery of the muffed punt inside the Browns 10-yard line set up a key touchdown run by Denard Robinson on the next play, and helped the Jaguars pull away for a 24-6 win.
That is all in the past, and Reynolds said that Jaguars special teams coordinator Mike Mallory challenged him to take control of the special teams units moving forward.
"I think it all comes off setting a standard and taking ownership of it," Reynolds said. "That's the one thing Coach Mal (Mallory) told me to do, take ownership of special teams and be the bell cow."
Defensively, Reynolds began his career behind Paul Posluszny at middle linebacker, later moving to the strong side and starting three games at Otto linebacker in 2014. He also replaced the injured Jeremiah George at middle linebacker in the Week 9 game at Cincinnati.
With free-agent signing Dan Skuta expected to start training camp at the Otto position, Reynolds understands that his knowledge of the defense will help him compete for a starting spot and be ready to contribute if an opportunity arises, no matter the position.
"We have our core guys: Poz (Paul Posluszny), (Dan) Skuta, Telvin (Smith), and we have the guys that are willing to step in and play when their number is called," he said. "I think that's the mentality we are trying to build, especially with the young guys: be able to step in when your number is called."
To be prepared to "step in when your number is called" is to understand all three linebacker positions, something that Reynolds said includes hours of study each night at home after a practice.
"At home I'm on my dry erase board going over the defense, going over the playbook, going over the defense," he said. "I just try to adjust and compartmentalize every position with the Mike linebacker, his alignments, then the Will, then the Otto, because it's easier to understand that way.
"For me it's just easier when I rewrite things or kind of keep reminding myself. I'll go over the practice first on the iPad, then I'll go over the playbook, then I'll go over the dry erase board. It's about a two-and-a-half-hour process, and if I miss something, I go back on it later that night before I go to sleep, because I hate going to sleep with something on my mind.
"It's something that's helped me to understand it more and get more comfortable in the defense."
With his third NFL season approaching, the former undrafted linebacker from Virginia continues to develop into a special teams leader and could be even more of a contributor on defense in 2015.
All of that aside, Reynolds approach for the 2015 season is still simple and direct.
"I just want to be known to set a tone and set a standard for this team," he said.