CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Imagine sitting by the ocean and unwinding with nothing imminent on the calendar when someone calls with a job offer.
In such a relaxed state, jumping at that opportunity may not be your first thought. Now imagine that job comes with the following description: You’ve got to crack the books right away and you’re going to get hit. A lot. Often by much bigger men.
Those caveats really don’t sweeten the proposition, do they?
That was the scenario facing Reggie Wayne last week. But the receiver didn’t think twice. He happily accepted the Patriots’ employment offer and made his debut in a 17-16 exhibition win over the Carolina Panthers Friday night with just a pair of practices under his belt.
“Hell, you go from chillin’ on the beach and just relaxing [to playing football],’’ said Wayne. “I worked out every day but there’s no way you can simulate football practices in your workouts at home so it was different.’’
Wayne didn’t have any catches and was only targeted once — Tom Brady’s short pass was just a bit off — but the veteran isn’t too concerned with statistics just yet, he was just happy to be back in pads.
“Felt like football,’’ said Wayne, when asked what it was like to return to the game. “I’m still adjusting, still trying to get on the same page with the quarterback, get on the same page with this team, learn this playbook. But just to be out there and hearing all the football terminology, seeing all of the stuff that I have been wanting to see for months, it felt good.’’
Coach Bill Belichick, who has had to shuffle the wide receiver deck more than a few times this summer with so many injuries (Brandon LaFell has yet to practice and Julian Edelman, Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, and Brian Tyms, who is on injured reserve with a foot ailment, all have been nicked up in camp), is happy to have Wayne in the fold and on the field, especially under game conditions.
“I think it’s always different in a game,’’ said the coach. “Game speed, timing, communication, not necessarily verbal but the timing of the communication with the quarterback and the routes and so forth. Practice is good and that certainly helps, but it’s never quite the same as the game. That’s something we can learn from and build on. We’ve obviously got a long way to go but [we’ll] keep working on it.’’
The 36-year-old Wayne, who played his previous 14 seasons with the Colts, collecting 1,070 receptions for 14,345 yards and 82 touchdowns, said he feels like a rookie again and though the Patriots playbook isn’t pleasure reading, he’s jumped right in.
“I’m learning,’’ said Wayne. “I’m doing better than I thought I would. No one likes to go back to school, it’s a process. Hopefully I can continue to grasp everything and continue to do as best as I can. I knew from afar that this playbook wasn’t simple. They’re throwing a lot at me, trying to see what sticks. I’m doing all right, man.’’
Wayne is getting some tutelage from a guy with pretty expansive knowledge on the playbook — Brady.
“He’s just trying to get me to understand the lingo, the way things go around here, it’s totally different [than in Indianapolis],’’ said Wayne. “He’s just trying to get me up to speed with everything.’’
Wayne is very appreciative of the help and support Brady has been able to offer, despite controversy surrounding the quarterback and the imminent decision on his suspension status as a result of Deflategate.
“Just what I know of Tom, I know that he’ll take care of business, whatever that is,’’ said Wayne, who has a little experience playing with elite quarterbacks after splitting his tenure in Indianapolis with Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck. “He’s a professional, man. He knows what to do. Things happen, everybody’s going to have some bumps in the road here and there. I’m just glad that in spite of all that stuff he’s able to pull me to the side and kinda help me out. Whatever the situation is, it is. That’s my teammate and I’m willing to do whatever I can to help.’’
Wayne is wearing No. 15 with the Patriots because a certain fun-loving tight end has his familiar No. 87. He chose the number because “it’s my 15th season and eight plus seven equals 15.’’
After being entrenched with one team for so long, Wayne acknowledged it is a bit surreal to be wearing a different uniform. Especially New England’s red, white, and blue, considering the intense rivalry between the Patriots and Colts. The teams meet again Oct. 18 in Indianapolis, and the possibility exists that it could be Brady’s return if he is ordered to serve his four-game suspension.
“It’s different,’’ said Wayne. “You’ve been somewhere for 14 years so you never think you’ll be anywhere else, but that’s life. Life is when you plan for something else and things happen, you have to adjust. It was weird but once the whistle blows it just becomes football. I’m just thankful for the opportunity to be back out there again.’’