INDIANAPOLIS – Reggie Wayne still is learning the room. His room.
It’s an Indianapolis Colts’ wide receivers room teeming with young talent that largely remains unproven, but doesn’t lack confidence.
Wayne is about two months into his first season as the team’s receivers coach – “When you’re coming from Miami Beach to Indiana Beach, it’s a little different. I’ll just leave it at that,’’ he said with his trademark smile – but has detected a definite vibe from his pupils.
“This is me personally,’’ he said this week. “They probably feel a little bit disrespected, so they want to kind of surprise some people.
“These guys are on a mission, I believe, and hopefully I can help and make them household names.’’
Wayne is one of those household names, in the same vein as Peyton Manning, Edgerrin James, Marvin Harrison and so many others who helped lift the Colts from NFL afterthoughts to perennial championship contenders. He ranks 10th in NFL history in receptions and yards and has been one of the Final 15 modern-era candidates the last three years for Pro Football Hall of Fame consideration.
Now, he’s been charged with developing a Colts’ receivers group that features Michael Pittman Jr. and a slew of hope-to-bes. And we’re including Parris Campbell, their oft-injured 2019 2nd-round draft pick, and Alec Pierce, their 2nd-round pick last weekend.
You know the backstory by now.
Pittman, a 2020 2nd-round pick, emerged last season with 88 receptions, 1,082 yards and six touchdowns. But the other returning wideouts combined for 28 receptions, 387 yards and four TDs. Zach Pascal, the second-leading receiver, signed a free-agent contract with the Philadelphia Eagles while four-time Pro Bowl selection T.Y. Hilton remains unsigned.
Chris Ballard and Frank Reich remain bullish on the young wideouts but realized the need to inject a playmaker into the room, which led to Pierce’s addition.
“We think he’s got a chance to really ascend,’’ Ballard said.
How quickly Pierce makes the transition from deep threat at the University of Cincinnati – he averaged 17.5 yards on 106 career receptions – to viable sidekick for Pittman could depend on how he responds to Wayne’s hands-on tutelage. Their introductory meeting occurred last month when the Colts put several of Cincinnati’s players through a private workout.
Pierce followed Wayne’s 14-year career with the Colts and plans on doing his part.
“Just trying to soak in everything, learn how to become a great wide receiver like he was and play for that long and be that successful for that long in a career,’’ he said.
Pittman and Pierce are expected to be the twin towers at the position – Pittman is 6’4″, Pierce checks in at 6’3″ – but so much remains unknown. Will Campbell finally be able to stay on the field? He’s missed 32 of a possible 47 regular-season games. Are Ashton Dulin, Dezmon Patmon and Mike Strachan capable of taking major leaps? That trio has combined for 22 receptions, 220 yards and three TDs during their brief careers.
“These dudes are hungry, man. They’re hungry,’’ Wayne said. “It’s kind of funny. I kind of wondered coming in with such a young room how that would be because ideally most times you’ll have a veteran guy in there that can kind of lead the way. Like, ‘Hey, watch him. Watch what he (does).’ Or they can see him do it, and they stand in line behind him.’’
The Colts selected Wayne with the 30th overall pick in 2001, and he stepped into a receivers room that already had Marvin Harrison, Jerome Pathon and Terrance Wilkins.
Wayne’s room includes Pittman, heading into year 3, Campbell (year 4) and Keke Coutee (year 5, but just his second in Indy). It also includes four rookies: Pierce and undrafted rookies Michael Young Jr., Samson Nacua and Kekoa Crawford.
All 11 are 25 or younger.
“I was kind of worried about being young,’’ Wayne said. “But I got in there talking to the dudes, and these dudes have so many questions, and I think they really do want to get better. If we’re out there and they feel like they didn’t do it right, they get back in line without me telling them to.
“In a lot of cases I’m learning from them because they know the playbook better than I do. These guys are determined to get better.’’
Pierce’s learning curve
Perhaps the most striking difference between getting behind cornerbacks in college and doing likewise in the NFL is the week-to-week level of the cornerbacks. There are no soft touches at this highest level.
If an NFL cornerback stifles you on a particular play, Wayne noted, “you get pissed off,’’ but you regroup and tackle the next play. You learn and get better.
First and foremost, he added, Pierce and all of the rookies must get a firm grasp of the playbook.
“Things are different,’’ Wayne said. “I remember when I was in college we had a numbers system. I came here and it was all words. It’s just grasping that because until you get the playbook you’re not playing full speed.
“You break the huddle and now you’re walking up to the line of scrimmage and you’re wondering if you’re about to do the right thing: ‘What the hell was that?’ At the snap of the ball you’re not coming off 100 miles an hour, you’re kind of coming off 70 miles an hour, kind of looking, wondering if you’re doing the right thing.
“Master the playbook. Other than that, everything’s football. You catch, you run, especially at receiver. If you can’t catch, you can’t help us, right? Just catch the ball full speed, and we’ll figure the rest out.’’
About Matt Ryan
Wayne’s eyes lit up when he was asked about Matt Ryan.
“Man, it makes me almost want to throw up ‘cause he reminds me of Peyton so much,’’ he said. “He’s epitome of a leader, right? In meetings, he’s vocal. He’s trying to get that connection with the connection with the receivers. He demands excellence.
“I don’t know how it was last year or the year before that, but this year as I can see the guy is a vocal leader. He’s out there grinding with them. I really feel with his years and experience in the league it’ll kind of help these guys.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.