INDIANAPOLIS — One of the most obvious effects of the turmoil in the Indianapolis Colts' front office is that the players are left hanging to a great extent. Even marquee free agents like center Jeff Saturday and wide receiver Reggie Wayne have little to go on. All they know is that new head coach Chuck Pagano has replaced Jim Caldwell, new general manager Ryan Grigson has replaced the Polians when it comes to personnel, and team owner Jim Irsay appears to be at the head of it all in ways he never was before.
The drama between Irsay and Peyton Manning is important, but almost ancillary when you look behind the curtain. The Colts will almost certainly draft Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the first overall draft pick no matter what happens with Manning. Because this franchise, which staggered to a 2-14 record after Manning's injuries had him out for the 2011 season and a string of bad drafts by the Polians left the cupboard near bare, is now rebuilding from the studs to the roof.
Wayne, who has played for the Colts since he was selected by them in the first round of the 2001 NFL Draft, became the face of the team's receiver corps when Marvin Harrison started to decline in 2007. His string of seven straight 1,000-yard seasons was broken last year by just 40 yards, as he went from catching Manning's passes to running around for errant throws from the likes of Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky.
So, what's a great player to do when he doesn't know his future? On Wednesday, Wayne blew off some steam with a huge line of kids at the NFL Experience event, playing Xbox Kinect and proving that the physical activity involved in the game can leave the most elite athlete a little bit gassed. He told Yahoo! Sports that this bit of pre-camp training was definitely a challenge.
"Gassed isn't even the word — I'm getting worked!"
Wayne, who could go elsewhere and become the fulcrum of a number of receiver-thin teams around the NFL if he so chose, was philosophical about the Colts' offseason changes.
"There's nothing you can do, really — you can only control what you can control. It's Jim Irsay's team, and he's got to do what's best for the organization. It's his team, and it's a business for him. As you said, there are a lot of changes happening, and I feel sorry for those coaches who were fired, because I've been with a lot of them nine or ten years. But coaches and players know — when you sign your name on a contract, it's not forever. It's not a given you'll be back each year. So, it was hard to see them go.
"At the same time, I am a Chuck Pagano fan — he's the new guy there, and he's a great hire," Wayne said of the former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator. "If you're going to fire some great guys, you've got to get some new guys, and Chuck Pagano is a great guy to bring in. He'll do a good job of adding some fire and enthusiasm to that team.
I asked Wayne if he liked the hire of new offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, formerly of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Was Wayne ready to run a large percentage of percent trips and bunch formations, as the Steelers always had under Arians and his predecessor, Ken Whisenhunt? That would be a pretty drastic change from the three-wide, single-back stuff the Colts dispensed more than any team through the Manning era.
"Whatever he asks me to do, I would do it. I'm a football player, and I love to play football, and I Just want to go out there and have fun. Just enjoy the game I've been playing since I was seven years old."
Wayne also said that he hasn't talked to Manning about his future in the NFL, the neck and nerve injuries Manning is trying to recover from, and whether the two men will ever hook up in Indy again. With little brother Eli representing the New York Giants in the Super Bowl, and Manning acting as the family Host Committee around town, Wayne's longtime quarterback has bigger fish to fry.
"Actually, we don't [talk about it]. This has been a big time for him and his family, with Eli being in the Super Bowl. So, I'm sure he has his hands full. But at a good time, I'll talk to him, and see how he's doing. I know he's got a lot on his plate already — trying to get back and proving to everyone that he can play. After the Super Bowl dies down, I'll check in on him and see how his progression is going. He's definitely [someone] I know is going to do everything he can to get back out on that field. [He wants to] prove everybody wrong who says that he can't get back out there and get it done.
"He's a competitor, he's a hard worker, and I really feel that he'll be playing somewhere next year — if not for the Colts, then for someone."
So, if Manning did go elsewhere, and Wayne was re-signed to a long-term deal with the Colts, would he be up for catching passes from Andrew Luck instead?
"I'm fine with it," he said. "One thing about that — it doesn't matter who throws the ball; it's still up to me to catch it and do something with it. So, I would love to play with Peyton again, but if not [in the NFL], I guess we'll just have to go in the backyard and play."
"No matter who it is [at quarterback], the ball's still going to be brown, and it's still going to be 100 yards from goal line to goal line. Nothing changes with me. If I go out there with a new quarterback, I'll do everything I can to help him perform well."
While Manning is able to enjoy showing his family around town, many of the Colts who live in the area are left with the sting of the Super Bowl festivities going on after a season in which the home team was the worst in football. That's given Wayne some time to reflect after so many years of team success with Manning at the helm.
"It's been rough — nobody likes to lose. But is it what it is — we've had tons of great years on that field, and one tough year … I guess you take it on the chin and just keep going. I can guarantee you that if I'm on that team again, we will do everything we possibly can to change the hopes and change the times back."
Whether the Colts have both, one, or none of the vestiges of the Manning-Wayne duo in Indianapolis for the 2012 season, it's been a great ride. We'll have to wait and see who's around -- for next year and beyond -- to reverse recent Colts history.