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Reggie Wayne wants to be on the field in the preseason. He needs to be on the field in the preseason. If the Indianapolis Colts don't put him out there, they're making a mistake.
Wayne missed most of last season after his severe knee injury required surgery and months of rehabilitation. He's done the work, no question. He has looked good back at wide receiver in public training camp sessions at Anderson University, which ended on Wednesday.
Wayne has said all along he'd like to play in the preseason, if only for one game. The Colts play the New York Giants at 7 p.m. Saturday in Lucas Oil Stadium, the New Orleans Saints at home on Aug. 23 and the Bengals in Cincinnati on Aug. 28.
“(We're) just kind of playing it by ear,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said on whether Wayne will play Saturday. “He looks really good out there, running around good. Obviously, we're keeping a close eye on him, watching his reps and things like that. We'll just play it by ear.”
Wayne seems itching to get on the field in a real game situation.
“I'm just following orders,” Wayne said. “As we always say, we're just here to serve. I'm just here to serve. Whenever they tell me it's time, I'll get ready. I'm going to do the same thing I have been doing, prepare like I am going to (play) and then once he gives me the bad news, I am going to sit it on down.”
If Wayne is back to full health, they should put him back in the rotation for the second and third games of the preseason. That will allow him to be comfortable with contact again, as well as work with the offense in game situations.
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and the first-team offense are expected to play one quarter against the Giants, possibly less if they generate a couple of early scoring drives.
Typically, NFL teams play their starters into the third quarter in the third preseason game and that's been the Colts' routine in the first two seasons with Pagano in charge. If Wayne is only used in one preseason game, it should probably be the third. But if he can play in one, why not two?
The only benefit to holding Wayne out of preseason games would be if he needs more time to become fully healthy. That doesn't appear to be the case. He has run through every drill, taking days off only as determine by Pagano for veterans. During camp, Pagano believes in a two-on, one-off style of practicing for the veteran players to keep them fresh. Wayne has looked fresh.
The downside to holding Wayne out of the preseason entirely would be the fact he'd have to take his first hit in a regular-season game.
Now, that first hit will matter. Regardless of how confident a player is, nor how many years he has played, there remains uncertainty in testing the surgically repaired body.
The knee is so essential to Wayne's play, as he makes his living out of running crisp routes with sharp cuts and moves to find openings. He's not a speed demon. He's receiver-as-artist, painting the field canvas with precise strokes.
Wayne said he would prefer to have his first hit in the preseason.
“That's the mindset, but at the same time if the big dog tells me to sit it down, I am going to sit it down,” Wayne said. “Like I said, I am just here to serve. I am just a servant. I'm Semmi in 'Coming to America.' I'm just here to do my job and when it's time and the time comes, I am going to be ready, ready to perform the way I have been performing.”
Set aside the fact Wayne shows his age with his reference to a 1988 Eddie Murphy movie. He has been in the league long enough to know his own body.
Play Wayne. Let him work out the initial apprehension, presuming he has to have some, in the preseason. Then he'll be relaxed and ready to be his usual reliable self when it counts.