Colts Wide Receiver Wayne Continues to Emerge as One of NFL's Best
INDIANAPOLIS – For Reggie Wayne, the ideal scenario is simple.
Ideally, the Colts' wide receiver said he wouldn't have had to prove himself capable of being the No. 1 receiver in the offense. Ideally, eight-time Pro Bowl selection Marvin Harrison would have been healthy last season.
Last season wasn't ideal.
And for Wayne, that turned out to be as OK as possible.
Wayne, an eight-year veteran wide receiver, spent much of last season as the go-to guy in the Colts' offense for the first time. With Harrison out 11 games with a knee injury, Wayne – the Colts' first-round selection in the 2001 NFL Draft – continued his emergence as one of the NFL's elite receivers, leading the league in receiving yards and setting career-highs in receptions and yards.
But yes, he said, he proved something.
"Shutting up the critics," Wayne said this weekend at the Colts' three-day rookie/veteran minicamp, which concluded Sunday at the team's practice facility.
"There was always talk about, 'Could I do it?' A lot of times I would hear I'm good just because of Marvin, which I am because he's helped me get better.
"But at the same time, I know what I can do, and I was able to prove it last year."
The season, in one sense, was a normal one for Wayne.
In each of his seven NFL seasons, he has improved statistically from the season before. He caught 27 passes as a rookie, catching 49 for 716 yards and four touchdowns in 2002. He followed that with 68 receptions for 838 yards and seven touchdowns in 2003 before recording his first 1,000-yard season in 2004, when he caught 77 passes for 1,210 yards and 12 touchdowns.
In 2005, he caught 83 passes for 1,055 yards and five touchdowns, then set career-highs in receptions and yards in 2006 with 86 receptions for 1,310 yards and nine touchdowns.
In 2007, he caught 104 passes for 1,510 yards and 10 touchdowns.
"Reggie's gotten better every year since I have been here – just little fine points, little details, getting more opunities, but really understanding the game, how we do things and making those plays," Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said. "He made a ton of big plays for us (last season), was very consistent all year, but not a whole lot different than he's been maybe the last three years."
Wayne this weekend said the 2007 season did create one difficulty – how to again reach his annual goal of improving statistically.
"This is definitely going to be a tough challenge," he said. "I feel like I can take advantage of it and hopefully we can have a good year."
Wayne last season made the Pro Bowl for a second consecutive season, the first time as a starter, helping Indianapolis finish as the NFL's sixth-ranked passing offense despite the absence of Harrison, a 1,000-yard, 10-touchdown receiver from 1999-2006.
And Wayne said that despite his productivity last season, the task was in a very real sense more difficult without Harrison.
"I saw a lot more people in front of me," he said. "I guess that comes with all the hard work as well. The one thing about it, I guess I look at it and when I first got here, I guess I'm Marv now. Going into games I would tell (then-rookie wide receiver Anthony) Gonzalez, 'Hey, help me out.' You go out there and play good and once you play good, it helps me get open.
"Once again, we feed off each other."
Dungy said earlier this off-season the Colts moved Wayne to different receiver positions last season more often than in the past last season.
"I love it that way," Wayne said. "That way they can't key on me if they don't know exactly where I'm going to line up, instead of just being on the left side. I can be anywhere. I'm trying to get under center, but I don't think that's going to happen."
But Wayne said to make no mistake:
The Colts are a better offense – and a better team – with Harrison in the lineup, and Wayne said he benefits greatly, too.
"We feed off each other," Wayne said. "I would much rather have him out there healthy. An example, he was healthy, I was healthy and we went to the Super Bowl (following the 2006 season). Our offense was 'potent.'
"So the closest I can have him to 100 percent, I think the better off I'll be."
Wayne said he watched Harrison early in his career and learned much from a player who from 1999-2006 caught at least 10 touchdowns and passes for at least 1,000 yards every season.
"I can tell you it's definitely hurting him not being able to be out there," Wayne said. "I get a lot of my practice skills from Marv. When I got here, I looked at Marv and he was taking every snap, every rep.
"I said that if that's what I have to do to be great, I'm going to take every snap, too. So whenever (Colts quarterback) Peyton (Manning)'s out there, I'm out there. Hopefully he can come back. I think he'll be back and ready to go and I'm looking forward to it."