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Ben Smith

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Associated Press
With Reggie Wayne out for the season, Darrius Heyward-Bey will be expected to step up his game.

Yea for Heyward-Bey

And now, life without Reggie.

And now, Reggie Wayne and his punched ticket to Canton are in street clothes after a season-ending knee injury, and it’s Darrius Heyward-Bey who must fill the void, if in fact the void can be filled. It is Darrius Heyward-Bey, one-time symbol of the winter of Al Davis’ judgment, who will either show the way or not as a wide receiver who knows what it’s like to be the No.1 option.

“I’ve done it before,” he says. “I came in the league real young and before you know it I was the oldest guy in the room, so I’ve done it before and I’m looking forward to it.”

Brave words. Also whistling-past-the-graveyard words, worst case.

It’s the worst case you try not to think now, with Wayne done for the season and the Colts coming off yet another defining victory. They’re 5-2 now and have beaten San Francisco, Denver and Seattle, which means you can fit “Colts” and “Super Bowl” in the same sentence without it sounding off-key. And so of course you try not to think about the impact the absence of Wayne, his team-leading 38 receptions, 503 yards, two touchdowns and his security-blanket presence for Andrew Luck will have.

You think about Heyward-Bey and his 18 catches for 190 yards and one touchdown instead. And you think only happy thoughts.

“With Reggie out of that room, he’s got to assume that leadership role, so to speak,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said this week. “Like I told him, he’s never been anywhere, until he came here, where he’s had the opportunity to be behind or have a veteran like Reggie in the room.

“I think now, the more plays you make and the more success you have on Sundays, I think that’ll just build the confidence and bring more of that out of him.”

It has happened before, sort of. In four seasons in Oakland, he caught 140 passes for 2,071 yards and 11 touchdowns, with season highs of 64 catches for 975 yards in 2011 and five touchdowns in 2012.

But only in 2011 did he lead the Raiders in receiving. And, fairly or not, he was famous more for Davis using the seventh pick in the 2009 draft on him, a decision that was roundly panned by all the draft nerds.

Now he can turn all that into archives. As can all the young receivers around him, as can Luck, as can the Colts as a whole.

“Opportunity presents itself and the plays are there to be made, just make them on a consistent basis,” Pagano says.

And Heyward-Bey?

He says what they all say in this eyes-front Colts culture: That you go about your business and do the work and hope the other guys follow your lead. Because that’s what Reggie does.

“I always looked at myself as a hard worker, but Reggie took it to a whole different level,” Heyward-Bey says. “I respect everything he did out there on the practice field and on game day. Just seeing that type of leadership, that’s what I took away from it.”

Works for Pagano.

“You know, again, I think, yeah, he does (have leadership capabilities),” he said last week. “And I think it’ll probably be more from a work ethic standpoint, practice standpoint. He’s not a vocal, vocal guy, but more leads by example.”

Brave words. And, best case, accurate words.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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