INDIANAPOLIS | Reggie Wayne was the Colts' ballast.
When he was suddenly surrounded by rookies and newcomers last season, Wayne took it upon himself to show the youngsters how things were done in the NFL. When Andrew Luck had a question about a defense or a coverage, Wayne could provide the answer. And when Luck needed someone to bail him out on the field, well, Wayne always seemed to get open.
Now the Colts need someone to fill in for Wayne.
"You can't replace Reggie," quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen said Tuesday. "I've been here 12 years and I've never seen him miss a game, and I've rarely seen him miss a practice. But you've got to take it and go and we've got some good young guys who are ready to do that."
Indy (5-2) made everything official Tuesday by putting Wayne on season-ending injured reserve for the first time in his 13-year career. The move ended his streak of consecutive games played at 189.
Losing the perennial Pro Bowler is a huge blow for a team that has a two-game lead over Tennessee in the AFC South and has already beaten three of the league's top teams — San Francisco, Seattle and Denver. And Wayne has played a huge role in Indy's remarkably quick turnaround.
He's seen and done it all — won a Super Bowl, two AFC titles, had four 100-catch seasons and endured the misery of a 2-14 season in 2011. Before tearing the anterior cruciate ligament late in his right knee Sunday night, on a low, underthrown ball he was coming back to catch, Wayne had moved into eight place on the NFL's all-time receptions list (1,006) and was closing in on the top 10 in career yards receiving, too.
The 39-33 win over Denver moved Wayne into a three-way tie with John Unitas and Jeff Saturday for playing in the second-most career wins in franchise history (132). Peyton Manning holds the record at 141.
But in Indy, everyone knows Wayne's contributions go far deeper than stats. As Wayne lay on the ground Sunday night, fans chanted "Reg-gie! Reg-gie!" and longtime teammates and close friends such as linebacker Robert Mathis and safety Antoine Bethea gathered around.
"The thing we're really going to miss is their communication on the field was getting really special," receivers coach Charlie Williams said, referring to the bond between Darrius Heyward-Bey, T.Y. Hilton and Wayne.
What will the Colts do now?
There has been rampant speculation that general manager Ryan Grigson will again go shopping, and Grigson's reputation as a dealer has played right into the rumors. Since joining the Colts in January 2012, he has made 16 trades including last month's blockbuster to acquire running back Trent Richardson from Cleveland for a first-round pick in 2014.
Some believe he will make another move during Indy's bye week and before next week's trade deadline.
The most popular names being floated are Kenny Britt, Josh Gordon and Hakeem Nicks, though, this time could be very different.
It's unlikely the Titans would send the talented but struggling Britt to a team they're chasing for the division title and that they will face Nov. 14 and Dec. 1.
And while Grigson and Browns CEO Joe Banner have a relationship that dates to their time together in Philadelphia, and Nicks seems to fit Grigson's model, a young, talented player who hasn't fulfilled all expectations, Grigson may be running out of trade bait.
In addition to sending that first-round pick to the Browns, Indy also dealt a fourth-rounder in 2014 to Cleveland so they could take defensive tackle Montori Hughes in April. The Colts sent another pick, reportedly a seventh-rounder, to San Francisco for linebacker Cam Johnson. And while Grigson has managed to get two picks back in other deals, it is believed one of those picks will come in the 2015 draft.
That means the Colts may need their own players to do their jobs better or finding help on the free-agent market. Veterans looking for work include Deion Branch, Braylon Edwards, Brandon Lloyd and Mike Thomas, but that would not be a simple transition.
"It's challenging because you can't get them started at ground zero," Williams said. "When you bring someone in at midseason, they've missed all the little, major points we've been putting in."
The Colts insist Wayne will help in any way he can.
He'll still be around to push the receivers, to help Luck, to share his knowledge. He just won't be able to help when Luck is looking for his security blanket on third down.
"You need your go-to guy when all heck breaks loose and you say, 'I can go to this guy.' I don't' know where that will come from (now), maybe the running game, but it's a process and it is hard," Christensen said. "Reggie could steady the ship when, you know, the waves were coming overboard and all heck is heck was breaking loose."
Notes: Indy signed cornerback Jalil Brown to take Wayne's roster spot. Brown was Kansas City's fourth-round pick in the 2011 draft. ... The Colts also waived tight end Dominique Jones from the active roster and released fullback Robert Hughes from the practice squad.
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