INDIANAPOLIS — Never one to back down from a challenge, Reggie Wayne clearly remembers hearing Fred Smoot's measurables during the first day of Senior Bowl practices in 2001.
Smoot, a consensus first-team All-American from Mississippi State, came into the game having earned a lot of acclaim for his cover skills against some of the best receivers in the nation.
"He got a lot of praise out of Mississippi State," Wayne said. "And I hear them say, 'Fred Smoot, 168 pounds.' I say, 'Oh, he's too small.'"
Wayne, recalling his Senior Bowl memories on Wednesday on the NFL Network, said he didn't forget that moment when hitting the practice field later in the day.
As the quarterbacks and wide receivers got ready for 1-on-1s against the defensive backs, Wayne — who measured in at 6 foot, 185 pounds — saw he was going to be matched up with Smoot. The coaches told the receivers to "run whatever route that you want to run."
"So I'm looking up, Fred Smoot's up; I remember them saying 168 pounds, (and) I'm thinking, 'He's too thin to win,'" Wayne said. "So instead of going deep, I say, 'Give me a slant route.' So I pick three slant routes in a row — in a row; they thought I was crazy."
As it turned out, Wayne wasn't crazy. He knew exactly what he was doing.
The University of Miami product was able to body up against the smaller Smoot on all three routes, beating the All-American each time and receiving a clean pass from quarterback Jesse Palmer.
From there, it was smooth sailing for Wayne. All of the pressures that can come with the practices and the game itself — each minute of which are heavily scrutinized and evaluated by all NFL teams' general managers, scouts and coaches — just went away.
"I won all three, because I just figured I could just be physical against him because he was so small, and I can win," Wayne recalled. "And it got to the point to where that week was so fun for me, every ball I caught, I heard the 'Oohs' and 'Ahhs' from all of the scouts and coaches."
Wayne turned that experience a couple months later into becoming the 30th overall pick by the Indianapolis Colts in the 2001 NFL Draft.
Five seasons later, Wayne was a Super Bowl champion. And by the time he left the game of football after the 2014 season, he was a six-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro whose 1,070 receptions and 14,345 receiving yards ranked in the Top 10 in NFL history.
Smoot, meanwhile, wouldn't be deterred by the experience, as he would become the second-round pick of the Washington Redskins that year, and go on to intercept 21 passes in his nine-year NFL career.
Rest assured, the Indianapolis Colts' personnel folks and coaches this week are looking for the next Reggie Wayne to put on their roster. Maybe not at the wide receiver position necessarily, but a player who never backs down from a challenge and lets his play on the field do the talking — whether that's in practice or in a game.
With the Senior Bowl practices kicking off on Tuesday, there's plenty of players — both stars like Wayne and Smoot were, and more under-the-radar guys just looking for a chance to prove themselves — that would be worthy of a shot.
For now, with the team's general manager job open and available, it's up to interim GM Jimmy Raye III, his staff of scouts, as well as head coach Chuck Pagano, to try to find those gems this week in Mobile, Ala.
Now speaking more from his role as an analyst for the NFL Network, Wayne said he hopes whoever takes over as the Colts' general manager focuses on defense first, and then trying to continue to find pieces on the offensive line second, in their search for the best college talent out there.
"I believe he needs to get that defense situated," Wayne said of the Colts' new GM. "The last couple years, they've been in the back half — especially this year — in the back half of all major categories. So you've got to find some guys in there on defense to find ways to get the ball back to your next prized possession in Andrew Luck.
"That's the second component that you need to take care of," Wayne continued. "You need to get that offensive line situated to keep (Luck) protected. That is your prized possession, man — that is your team bell cow. So you need to find a way to keep him safe, upright and healthy as much as possible."
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