Reggie Wayne is getting used to his expanded position as a veteran leader in the Indianapolis Colts locker room.
Wayne, now in his 12th season with the team, has gladly assumed the roles of mentor, advisor, teacher and on-field example of how to be a successful receiver in the NFL. It’s a role that Wayne learned firsthand from former Indianapolis receiver Marvin Harrison.
He’s just passing all that knowledge and information on to a younger generation of players, including rookie quarterback Andrew Luck as well as first-year receivers T.Y. Hilton and LaVon Brazill. But what’s made things even more interesting this season is that Wayne is learning the Colts’ new offensive system along with everybody else.
“I don’t know. It all seems like it’s the same,” he said during training camp. “Guys will come ask questions. I remember guys were asking questions when I was here for only three years. It just comes with the territory.
“As I'm telling them, I’m a rookie all over again, too, dealing with offensive terminology and philosophy. Guys think because I’m the older guy, I can grasp it easier. It keeps me on my toes. We’ve got some young receivers who want to learn, guys taking great notes, heavy notes. I’m a big note-taker. When I see them taking notes, I know they want to get better. It’s going to be exciting. I like where we're headed.”
While downplaying his years in the league and his age (33), Wayne acknowledges that he enjoys being the veteran leader of a young and talented group of receivers.
“It doesn’t matter to me. My intensity is going to stay the same. I’m not going to change anything. Even when [former Colts quarterback] Peyton [Manning] was here, I was still being vocal when I needed to be vocal. Guys came up to me and I helped. So I’m not going to do anything extra, extra, extra to help a guy. If I see a guy do something wrong, and it’s clearly wrong, I’m going to correct him,” he said.
“I’m going to tell him what he should have done. But if it’s something minor, coaches get them on that. If they want to know something they come and ask. I’m there to help. So there’s no change for me. I’ve always been that guy, even if I wasn’t that guy. I consider myself as the leader, and I’m going to continue to lead.”
Wayne's desire to be a leader hasn’t surprised anybody. Neither has his desire to learn a new way of doing things under the tutelage of interim coach/offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and wide receivers coach Charlie Williams.
“You can’t put a value on it. [Wayne’s leadership] has been fantastic. From day one, through the [organized team activities] in the summer, what he does in his role with his young guys and the quarterback, he is the heart and soul leader of the offense,” Arians voiced recently.
“Andrew will take that torch one day. But for right now, it’s definitely Reggie. He’s done a heck of a job coming to me with things, going to the coaches with things. It’s what a leader does. Different things within the locker room, whatever. There’s no way to put a value on that and how important that is.”
One example of how he bought in to what coach Chuck Pagano and his coaching staff is trying to accomplish was his willingness to learn different ways to run pass patterns. He was also moved from the left side of the formation, where Wayne had been most of the time over his previous 11 seasons, to line up in the slot and on the right side.
“It was hard for him to get on the other side. His feet wouldn’t work. He’d been on the left side forever. And now he’s over here running off his other foot. That’s not easy,” the longtime NFL assistant said.
“He worked his tail off. To play in the slot and to do all the things, like asking him to read coverage and do those things. But his production right now speaks for his work ethic. Because it wouldn't have happened without putting all that work in. When you produce like he’s producing, you’re paying a heck of a good price mentally and physically.”
While Arians is a longtime disciple of former Colts offensive coordinator Tom Moore, there are definite differences in how both offensive systems are constructed.
“It’s a copycat league, man,” Wayne said. “Somewhere in there you’re going to find something that you’ve been doing, just different terminology. I just try my best not to get them confused. I’ve got 11 years of something one way and a few months of something another way. So it’s going to take time, but we’re getting there.”
One question has become inevitable. How does Luck compare with his predecessor in Indianapolis?
“It's hard for me to answer that question. Andrew’s going to be good. He’s going to be real good. He’s real smart, he knows what’s going on around him. He understands concepts, understands terminology, he understands it all. I can’t compare the two. That wouldn’t be fair,” Wayne said.
“Like I said earlier, you’ve just got to sit back and see what happens. I wasn’t here when Peyton came as a rookie, so I’m not sure what kind of ball he threw then. I’ll tell you Andrew throws a nice strong ball, nice strong spiral. I guess they both have their pros and cons if you had to match them up right now. Andrew is going to be Andrew, and he’ll tell you, he’s not here to be Peyton. He’s here to be himself. If everybody expects him to be great someday, that means he’s on the right path. So all he’s got to do is continue doing what he’s doing and hope that guys like myself help him out.”
The fact that Wayne remained in Indianapolis after team officials decided to dismantle an older, and successful, roster in a large-scale makeover surprised many outside observers. And make no mistake about it. He had better offers from other teams, opportunities to end his career with franchises better suited to make a Super Bowl run this year and in the immediate future.
But Wayne just couldn’t see himself playing anywhere else. And he had strong ties to Pagano from their time together at the University of Miami. He signed a three-year, $17.5 million deal with the Colts last March after his previous contract had expired. Chances are he’ll end his NFL career in Indianapolis.
“Yeah, I thought I was going somewhere else the way things were going. Older guys were getting released. But I talked to Coach Pagano and it made it easier for me to stay. And staying in Indianapolis and the state of Indiana, it was pretty much an easy pick for me,” he said.
Which brings us to tonight’s nationally televised AFC South battle with Jacksonville (1-7, 1-1 AFC South). A quick turnaround game for the Colts (5-3, 1-1 AFC South), especially those young receivers who have never been through this sort of thing before at the NFL level. Wayne’s locker room and practice field leadership is striking a chord there too.
“I think you have to approach all of [the games] the right way, no matter what the opposing team’s record is,” he said. “It’s not like we are a veteran team ourselves. We’re young. We don’t have the position to where we can come out lax, not focused. We have to come out focused, no matter what the situation is.
“It’s going to be challenging. With this young team, this is now the first non-1 p.m. game that we’ve had. We got to make it a business trip like all the rest of them and not a vacation.”
Same thing goes for getting too amped up over Indianapolis’ current three-game winning streak.
“I don’t tell them anything,” Wayne said. “They’re professionals. They know what’s up. Coach Arians did a great job in the team meeting [Monday], telling them this isn’t the time to be patting themselves on the back. It’s the third quarter.
“We need to do in third quarter what we did in the second quarter. We need to stay focused, go out there, make plays, win games and just play Colts football.”