The role is familiar, and becoming much more comfortable, for Josh Reynolds.
The Rams’ third-year receiver once again will step into the lineup for an injured starter.
With Brandin Cooks sidelined while dealing with the aftermath of multiple concussions, Reynolds will start Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.
Last season, Reynolds replaced Cooper Kupp after Kupp suffered a season-ending knee injury. Reynolds started the final eight games, and two postseason games, including the Super Bowl.
Cooks’ long-term status has not been determined — he met with a concussion specialist Thursday in Pittsburgh, coach Sean McVay said — but Reynolds said he was better prepared for a short- or long-term assignment.
“One of the big things that’s kind of changed from last year to this year is actually having that third year to be able to know the playbook more,” Reynolds, a fourth-round draft pick in 2017, said this week. “And me just knowing how to be a pro and be able to fit into this position.”
Last season, Reynolds caught 29 passes for 402 yards and five touchdowns. He reverted to a reserve role this season after Kupp came back from surgery seemingly stronger than ever.
Kupp has a team-best 58 catches for 792 yards and five touchdowns. Receiver Robert Woods has 38 catches, and Cooks had 27 receptions before he suffered a concussion on the third play of the Rams’ victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Oct. 27 in London.
Reynolds had only two receptions in five games this season before he came onto the field in place of Cooks. He caught three passes for 73 yards, including one for a 31-yard touchdown, in the 24-10 victory over the Bengals as the Rams improved to 5-3.
Reynolds’ ability to come off the bench and instantly produce, “shows how locked in he is daily on everything,” quarterback Jared Goff said.
“He’s a guy who I have as much confidence in as anybody on our team,” Goff said. “I get excited once he gets his chance.”
Running back Todd Gurley also has confidence in the 6-foot-3, 196-pound Reynolds.
“Josh always comes in and does his thing,” Gurley said. “He’s just a tall, lanky dude that can run, and he’s going to catch the ball the opportunity presents itself.”
Gurley and tight ends Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee are looking forward to matching up against Steelers linebacker Mark Barron, who played for the Rams for four-plus seasons before he was released after last season. Barron, 30, has one sack and one interception.
“Got to be ready for my boy,” Gurley said. “He’s definitely going to be ready.”
After practicing against Barron “a million times,” Everett, joked, “he knows what to expect.
“Great competitor — that’s my guy,” he said. “But you know how it is on Sundays.”
Barron continues to exhibit toughness, blitzing ability and coverage skills, McVay said.
“Hopefully,” McVay quipped, “he continues having a good season after this week.”
Linebacker Bryce Hager will “most likely” be placed on injured reserve because of a neck injury, McVay said. Hager began the season as a starting inside linebacker, but was injured against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sept. 29. Hager sat out a game and then returned to play on special teams but the condition has persisted, McVay said. ... Linebacker Clay Matthews (jaw) was a full participant in practice, putting him on track to play Sunday. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said linebackers Samson Ebukam and Obo Okoronkwo would rotate with Matthews, who had six sacks in five games before he was injured against the Seattle Seahawks on Oct. 3. “He’s not going to play every play like he did before,” Phillips said. “The other guys have come in and played well. We want to give them some playing time too.”