ANDERSON – Reggie Wayne’s world is changing.
The fun-loving receiver who always got overshadowed by Peyton Manning has suddenly become the feature attraction at Colts camp.
Fans roar every time he steps on the field and rush over to him for autographs. The group of rookies joining him for extra work catching passes has been increasing daily. Veterans pepper him with questions, and the perennial Pro Bowler seems to be savoring his new job as the offensive leader after deciding to play with the revamped Colts.
Some people say we’re depleted. I say we’re younger and hungrier, Wayne said Friday. I wanted to be here. I wanted to build this foundation to get the Colts back to the old winning ways, and we still have some OGs around here.
Wayne is one of those old guys, or OGs in his vernacular. But for the first time in his 12-year career, Wayne is the veteran leader of this team.
Edgerrin James, Wayne’s old pal from Miami, left as a free agent before the Colts’ 2006 Super Bowl-winning season. Marvin Harrison, the receiver who mentored Wayne, wasn’t re-signed after 2008.
The biggest purge came in March when Manning, the longtime face of the franchise, was released, clearing room for Andrew Luck’s arrival. Free-agent center Jeff Saturday signed with Green Bay. Record-setting tight end Dallas Clark, former Pro Bowl running back Joseph Addai and defensive captains Gary Brackett and Melvin Bullitt were cut. Longtime offensive line starter Ryan Diem retired, and Wayne could have left, too, as a free agent.
He almost did.
Wayne was so convinced his days in Indianapolis were over that he celebrated the game-winning touchdown against Houston like it was his final score at Lucas Oil Stadium. The next week, he packed up his locker, took down his name plate and shipped everything home for the offseason.
His says his heart wouldn’t let him leave.
Instead, Wayne took less money to return to the Colts, giving them a veteran presence on an offense that will have at least seven new starters in the Sept. 9 season opener at Chicago. Indianapolis needed him.
We’re a young team, and if you watch Reggie, he’s been doing the same thing for years, cornerback Jerraud Powers said. For the young guys coming up, he’s a great guy to watch, to see how to do it the right way. You know going against Reggie every day in practice, he’s teaching me stuff all the time. He’ll say, I read this or that off of you.’
Wayne said he catches about 150 balls from a machine between workouts to keep his hands sharp. When Wayne walked over to the machine after last Sunday’s 2 1/2 -hour practice, he stood alone. On Day 2, two other players had joined him. On the third day, the group consisted of more than a half-dozen guys and it continues to expand.
After Friday’s morning walkthrough, Wayne walked slowly from the field to the locker room, talking with rookie receiver LaVon Brazill, a sixth-round draft pick out of Ohio University. Wayne didn’t say what they discussed, though it is a regular part of the routine for the 33-year-old whose poster-sized image has replaced Manning’s on the front of Lucas Oil Stadium.
He’s teaching me a lot, how to get in and out of breaks, said T.Y. Hilton, a third-round draft pick from Florida International. I haven’t been able to go with him after practice, but I go to the machine before practice and catch with Reggie.
Why wouldn’t the youngsters follow Wayne’s lead?
In 11 seasons, he has 862 receptions with 11,708 yards – second all-time in Colts history and nearly four times the total of the other 15 receivers and tight ends at Indianapolis’ camp. His 73 touchdown catches are almost triple the combined totals of the other 15 (281 catches, 3,218 yards, 25 TDs), 12 of whom have yet to catch an NFL pass.
Wayne has made 145 consecutive starts and 166 games played.
And though Luck is running the offense, this is clearly Wayne’s team.
My intensity has stayed the same, even when Peyton was here. I was vocal when I needed to be vocal. If I see a guy do something wrong, I tell him about it, Wayne said. We still have some old guys that they can build off of and show them what to do.