INDIANAPOLIS –A large number of Colts players returned to Indianapolis this week for the start of the off-season conditioning program that leads to eventual on-field work.
Many were coming home to train for the first time since the end of the season, and they saw a much healthier Reggie Wayne.
Wayne now is five days beyond the six-month mark of his ACL injury last October. Wayne has remained in Indianapolis the great bulk of the time, regularly beating the medical staff to the building as he tries to resume a career that points toward Canton.
"For the lack of a better word, he is a freak in terms of health and what he can do at his age," said Andrew Luck. "We all know he'll come back and produce probably better than he ever has.
"He's phenomenal. Obviously, I'm no (specialist), but just for him to be on the field with us, watching us do drills, jump in every now and then and see him around the building (is impressive). He looks good. We expect him back better than ever. We know he's a phenomenal football player, and it's great to have him be that big presence again everywhere."
Wayne, one of 11 players with 13,000 career reception yards and 80 career TD receptions, is tied for third-most in league history with six 1,200-yard seasons, yet the number of players reaching 1,000 yards after age 35 is small.
"I think there are exceptions to every rule," said Luck. "I think Reggie is an exception to a lot of rules. We know he's going to come back and produce at a very high level."
Wayne has taken note of opinions in the wind, though external motivations never have stoked his passion as much as his own desire. Still……
"I'm sure that can motivate anybody," said Hakeem Nicks. "When you see people doubting you, that just puts some fire in the engine and makes you want to go harder. I've been a witness to that myself."
When he was signed, Nicks said the last time he was part of a "three-headed monster" like he his now with Wayne and T.Y. Hilton that it resulted in a Super Bowl title.
Hilton, part of Nicks' monster description, saw Wayne this week, too.
"He's going to shock the world," said Hilton. "I saw him the other day and he looks great, like he never left. It's just a blessing just to have him around.
"A lot of people don't see behind the scenes the stuff he's doing. When they get to see him, they'll be shocked. It's going to be amazing."
Hilton has used Wayne as a resource since arriving in 2012, and he assumed a 1,000-yard role in the offense last year.
"He's always there, no matter what," said Hilton of Wayne. "Andrew trusts him, and we all trust him. He's been here the longest and he knows the ropes. He knows pretty much every defense.
"He helped us a lot (after getting hurt). The best thing about him was he never left. He had his surgery, came back and still was in the meeting room showing us what we needed to do, breaking down the teams for us and just helping us in a lot of ways."
Wayne last week talked about what it took for a successful rehabilitation.
"Being disciplined is the main thing," said Wayne. "(There are) days when you really don't want to get out of bed, but you have to be disciplined and do it.
"I really look at is as life. My definition of life is what happens when you expect something else. You've got to deal with it. If I want to continue to play, I've got to go out and grind. I do understand that's part of it. I feel great and hopefully they let me loose a little bit."
Luck said this week that all players are held to a high standard when they become Colts. It does not matter how one arrives but once he does, Luck pointed to the examples set by Wayne and Robert Mathis.
Wayne applied that yardstick daily in his rehabilitation. He is driven like so few players, so much so that Ryan Grigson lauded Wayne earlier this year when other teammates were away.
"Reggie is one guy we don't have to worry about," said Grigson. "He's kind of like that Jerry Rice type mindset. He just doesn't stop working and he's so determined.
"I really don't worry about him, and I know Chuck (Pagano) doesn't. I feel like he'll be ready to roll."