ANDERSON – Reggie Wayne was the first player on the field Friday for the Indianapolis Colts' last day of training camp at Anderson University. This is a small, important detail.
Rookie quarterback Andrew Luck will get the bulk of the attention, understandably so, when the Colts play their second preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at 8 p.m. Sunday at Heinz Field, Pittsburgh. We'll chart how Luck looks against the traditionally great Steelers defense. Can he match his sterling start against the St. Louis Rams last week?
Luck is 22 years old, his career in front of him. Wayne is 33, the bulk (but not all) of his career behind him.
Yet there is no more important person to Luck's success than Wayne, and that goes even if Wayne catches only a modest number of passes this season.
“We're still young and we still have some improving to do,” Wayne said, “even myself, making small mental mistakes. That's what the rest of (the preseason) is for, to continue to grow and iron out those mistakes.”
Wayne has spent this training camp leading by example. First guy on the field, last guy catching passes out of the Jugs machine long after practice is over. He talks with Luck, he points out nuances between quarterback and receiver that can only be learned and assimilated at the NFL level.
Then there's Wayne's influence on a relatively young receiving crew. Except for Austin Collie, who has been Wayne's teammate for the past three years, the group is rookies and near-rookies.
T.Y. Hilton, one of the rookies, mentioned the other day how he wants to keep improving his game and asking questions of Wayne. There's a link there.
Wayne has appeared near flawless during training camp at Anderson, which came to an end with a morning practice Friday. He maintains his high gear, runs crisp patterns, makes an attempt to grab every pass, one-handed, leaping or otherwise.
To be honest, he seems to be energized by the chance to work with a new quarterback and a new team. And when the Colts re-signed him after he became a free agent, he clearly assumed the deal was for his play and his approach on and off the field.
“We're young, bottom line,” Wayne said. “We're a young team. They say we have 54 first-year or second-year guys and that comes with this whole getting rid of guys and bringing in new guys.
“As veterans, we have to show those guys the way,” Wayne continued. “We've got some veteran leadership on this team that knows what to do. We have to take them under our wings and lead them to the right path.”
Watching Wayne in practice is a reward in and of itself. He makes the spectacular catch look easy, reminiscent of Marvin Harrison, the veteran Wayne encountered when he came into the league.
Harrison, however, wasn't necessarily inclined to be proactive in the leadership role. His personality was introverted.
Wayne's approach reflects his background at the University of Miami, where the Hurricanes were always known for confidence and brashness. The difference is that Wayne has soaked in the Colts' culture, so that he projects a more engaging confidence. You can't watch Wayne or listen to him and think of him as cocky. He stays on the likeable, positive side of confidence.
I've written before that if the Colts could only keep one of their two top receivers last season in Wayne and Pierre Garcon, Wayne was the right one to hold onto.
This group of Hilton, LaVon Brazill, Donnie Avery, Quan Cosby and others have benefited immeasurably from Wayne's presence.
Wayne shows them, with his individual work before and after practice, that greatness comes with a price in hard work.
“At certain times this year, these rookies won't be rookies anymore,” Wayne said. “They have to grow from that and become big-time players.”
They've got the right man showing them the way.