Jeremy Reaves was a critical part of the Washington Football Team's playoff push in 2020, and after years of bouncing in and out of the active roster, he thought he had broken through a barrier in his career.
It turned out his path took a couple more turns.
Reaves was released as part of the team's roster cuts in August. He rejoined the team as a member of the practice squad, but it took 14 weeks for him to see the field again, when he was elevated to the active roster for Washington's game against the Dallas Cowboys.
With several of his defensive teammates on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, he'll get another chance to be on the field. His years in the NFL have taught him to never take any opportunity for granted. Now that he's armed with more knowledge and experience, he doesn't plan on wasting this one, either.
"I'm preparing as if I'm going to be out there playing," Reaves said. "And I'm gonna let the rest take care of itself."
It was hard, Reaves admitted, when was hit with the reality that he was getting cut. It's easy to understand that frustration. He started the last three games of the 2020 season, recording 16 tackles and an interception in that span. In the playoff game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he had 10 tackles and forced a fumble.
But after going through training camp, he was told the heartbreaking news that he was not part of Washington's plans for shaping out the active roster.
"Sometimes, that's just life," said an emotional Reaves. "My mother, she's very big on 'You don't quit something. When you start it, you finish it.' So I know I have a purpose here, and I know that God has something for me here. I don't know exactly what it is, but I'm gonna stay the course, no matter what."
Reaves returned to what he called "the passenger's seat," but rather than be passive and accept his situation, he used the time to become more of a student of the game than he was in years past. You have to be really particular in situations like the one he was in, he said, and started to diagnose concepts and how offenses attack defenses.
"You become programmed to these things," Reaves said. "So when you're out there, you know if we're in this coverage or we're in this scheme, this is how they're going to attack us … It's all about being in the right place, learning the X's and O's of the game and just making the play."
Reaves has also gotten the chance to learn from experienced defensive backs like Bobby McCain and William Jackson III while taking on more of a reserve role. McCain has a history of position flex that Reaves views as similar to his own skillset. When McCain was with the Miami Dolphins, he played at every position in the secondary and had some degree of success at all of them.
Over the past few months, Reaves has been picking McCain's mind on how he interprets different schemes, and the two have been giving each other feedback on how to improve.
"Just seeing the whole formation," Reave said of McCain's advice. "Offenses tell you everything that you need to see out there … It's more of a feel thing that I've gotten from him. Just feeling route concepts as they've come down the field and developed."
Reaves has incorporated that advice into how he practices. His coaches have noticed that, which likely played a role in why they felt comfortable elevating him to the active roster.
"Jeremy is a pro. He's been on point; he's been anxious all year," said defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. "He's all in and I love the way he prepares. He's bright and he gives great effort. So…we would welcome him back, in any role that needs to be played."
Like everyone else on Washington's roster, Reaves has taken on the "next man up" mentality with 21 players now on the COVID-19 list. It's up to the players available, he said, to step up and maintain the standard others have already set.
Reaves is one of those players, and his number is being called. He's been in this situation before, and he has one mindset ahead of Washington's game against the Philadelphia Eagles: just go play ball.
"The passion, the energy, the fuel, it's always been there," Reaves said. "Now, you just get the opportunity to go do it. You just do what you've always done."