AN OLD-SCHOOL GUY

Until last week, wide receiver Reggie Wayne hadn't missed a practice since 2001, his rookie season. His Colts teammates said this week that dedication and professionalism has made the two-time Pro Bowl receiver a locker-room leader.

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Dedication, Professionalism Makes Wayne Locker-Room Leader, Teammates Say
INDIANAPOLIS – His respect for Reggie Wayne long has been high.

But when Colts veteran tight end Dallas Clark learned that when Wayne – the Colts' two-time Pro Bowl receiver – missed two practices last week it was the first time he had missed a practice in seven years . . .

Well, respect hardly was the word.

"I didn't know that was possible," Clark said, shaking his head.

Probable, it may not be. But possible, Wayne proved it was the past seven years. And as the Colts (4-4) prepared to play the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2) at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pa., Sunday, what Wayne did last week – and what he has done throughout his eight NFL seasons – was the subject of something not unlike awe around the Colts' locker room.

Wayne, once known among NFL fans as the Colts' second receiver, has developed into something far more, and players and coaches said his performance last week was an example.

He is more than one of the NFL's best at his position, teammates said this week.

He's more than throwback, although his coach said he is certainly that. He is, players said this week, a striking example of professionalism, and an inspiration.

He is a leader, and teammates said this past Sunday clearly showed why.

"That's what you expect from a guy like him," Colts middle linebacker and defensive captain Gary Brackett said.

Wayne's week actually began the previous week, when he sustained a knee injury late in the Colts' loss to Tennessee in Nashville, Tenn. The following day, on his weekly radio show, he said he would definitely play, but when the Colts' practiced the next day, Wayne sat out.

He sat out the next day, too, and teammates realized this was unusual.

Wayne, a first-round selection in the 2001 NFL Draft from the University of Miami, spent much of that first season adapting to the NFL. He caught just 27 passes for 345 yards and no touchdowns, and missed time in training camp with a high-ankle sprain.

He missed the regular-season opener, and didn't catch a pass in the first three games of the season. He missed two more games that season.

Since that season, he has not missed a start in the regular season or in the playoffs, and he is the only Colts player aside from quarterback Peyton Manning to start every game under Head Coach Tony Dungy.

And until last Wednesday, Wayne didn't miss a practice since his rookie season.

"He's a guy who loves practicing and a guy who prides himself on his work habits," Brackett said. "He practices hard. You know he's going into the weight room after practice and get a good workout in. You know he's going to run his routes sharp. He's going to catch the ball effectively.

"The same thing he wants to do on Sunday he does all week during practice."

Wayne has turned those practice habits into steady improvement. Since that 27-catch, 345-yard rookie season, he has caught more passes each season. He has had more than 1,000 yards receiving in each of the last four seasons, is on pace to do so again this season, and he has made the Pro Bowl each of the last two seasons. After making it as a reserve in 2006, he made it as a starter last season, when he caught a career-high 104 passes for an NFL-high 1,510 yards and 10 touchdowns.

On Friday of last week, after not practicing on Wednesday or Thursday, Wayne practiced on a limited basis, and on Sunday – in a game the Colts needed to avoid being under .500 at the midway point for the first time since 2001 – he caught six passes for 65 yards in an 18-15 Colts victory. He also had a crucial two-point conversion reception, leaping for the ball and securing it as he was hit hard by Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather.

"That's perseverance," Brackett said. "That's that desire, that love for the game. Obviously, his mindset was if he's able to walk or run a little bit, he's going to be out there. He's going to give it his all. That's what he did."

After the game, speaking to reers with his knees heavily wrapped, Wayne downplayed the performance.

"I'm a trooper," Wayne said, smiling. "This is what I do. This is what I love to do. I have to be out there. I've had plenty (of difficult physical challenges) – from college on to here – but once you're out there and the adrenaline gets going, you don't feel a thing."

His teammates and coaches were less nonchalant.

"I think there's a lot of University of Miami in him, that that's just what you do," Dungy said. "When Saturday comes, you play: 'Now I'm in the NFL and when Sunday comes, you play.' In the big games, there's no thought to anything else. It's very much old school."

Dungy said Wayne's ability to produce without practicing was about more than talent.

"To be able to look and watch practice and to be able to see, 'OK, here's what we're trying to accomplish, here's what we have set up for this situation, here's the coverage we anticipate when we're calling this' – to know all of those things, see it, not practice, but then be able to get in the game and function . . . that takes a certain amount of work ethic and knowledge of the offense and all of the things he has," Dungy said.

Dungy was asked what would happen if every player on a roster took Wayne's approach.

"You'd have a good team," he said, smiling.

"He can crawl out of bed and get on the field and do his thing," Clark said. "He's very good. Practice does help and it helps seeing those things, but he's been around long enough he can learn what he has to learn through watching other guys practice and just watching film."

Said Brackett, "Him not practicing last week, when he went out there, it was like riding a bike for him. It was definitely old hat. He develops it to a habit. For him, catching the ball and moving the chains – that's something he's accustomed to."

It was, Clark said, a memorable game by a player not unaccustomed to such performances, and as much as that, Clark said it was an example to younger players in the locker room.

"First, they can learn that this guy hasn't missed practice in seven years," Clark said. "That's amazing. They can also learn that, 'OK, when he's not practicing, he's taking notes. He's watching film. He's doing everything he has to do to get ready and he goes out and executes and makes big plays."

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