Detroit — Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff wasn’t sure he had even met Craig Reynolds, the running back the team had signed a day before Friday’s preseason game against the Buffalo Bills.
That checks out. Reynolds said he was introducing himself to many of his teammates in the huddle and coaches on the sideline during the game. But despite the absence of an acclimation period, the unheralded running back out of Division II Kutztown University in Pennsylvania emerged as the breakout star of Detroit’s 16-15 loss to the Bills.
Entering the game in the second half, Reynolds carried the ball six times. He finished with a game-high 49 yards, including a scintillating 24-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter where he sliced behind the block of a lineman he likely met minutes earlier and whose name he still didn’t know before racing untouched down the sideline for the score.
“I just felt it,” Reynolds said when describing the run. “The O-line did a great job the whole series, creating lanes and holes. Third down, short-yardage run, they gave me a crease and was able to convert. We just kept pounding the outside zone and on that play I just felt the overflow and tried to stay in control. Once everything washed by, tried to stay tight, press it and got vertical. Receivers did a great job down the field. Really, I wasn’t touched, so credit to the other 10 people on the field for giving me the opportunity to make that play.”
When the Lions called this week to take an up-close look, in need for running back depth as injuries mounted at the position, Reynolds almost didn’t make it. He was late to his initial evening flight out of Philadelphia and missed it. He ended up having to reroute through Charlotte the following morning.
But when Reynolds got to town, he impressed position coach Duce Staley and general manager Brad Holmes with his size and conditioning. Not only did Holmes get the back under contract, he urged coach Dan Campbell to find some short-notice playing time to see what they might have in the youngster.
“It’s impressive, it really is,” Campbell said. “We’ll see where this goes, but he’s got that look in his eye and he did when he walked in yesterday. You could tell, it’s like, ‘Hey, man, I’m here to compete. I’ll know enough of this playbook, you can put me in there.’ During the game, I’m asking Duce, ‘What can this guy do?’ (Staley said) ‘He’s pretty good. He’s pretty good, coach. He’s pretty good. I think he can do it.’ And he did. He carried it, he’s thick, he’s in great shape.”
Being from a town a half-hour north of Philadelphia, Reynolds knew Staley well. After all, he spent half of his playing career and his first 10 years as a coach with the Eagles. In fact, Reynolds said he’d met Staley four times over the years, at events around town.
Reynolds also admitted Staley had no reason to remember those encounters. Now, he’ll have a difficult time forgetting the running back who got dropped in his lap one day and delivered an impressive performance the next.