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Rolle sees Wayne stepping up game

The Baltimore Sun

INDIANAPOLIS -- As they walked off the field at M&T; Bank Stadium in last year's season opener, Ravens cornerback Samari Rolle and Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne greeted each other with the respect that carried over from their college days at rival schools.

Rolle, who played at Florida State, had seen Wayne, who played at Miami, come into his own while still in the shadow of Colts star Marvin Harrison.

"The crazy part is he has gotten much better. Last year when we played them, I told him that after the game," Rolle said earlier this week. "He's turned into a great all-around receiver. Every year he just gets better and better."

Recalling that conversation yesterday, Wayne said: "Me and Samari are good friends and that kind of put a smile on my face. That was kind of the first time a guy that I had gone up against actually come and honestly tell me that. It comes from Samari, who's been to the Pro Bowl. Coming from him it meant a lot."

When the Colts come back to Baltimore tomorrow for their divisional playoff game against the Ravens, Wayne will bring a reputation that has grown even more. For the first time in his six-year career, Wayne was selected to the Pro Bowl. He is now considered nearly an equal to Harrison in the team's high-powered passing game.

Statistically, they are 1 and 1A. Wayne achieved career highs in catches (86), only nine fewer than Harrison, and receiving yards (1,310), only 56 behind Harrison. He had nine touchdown catches, three fewer than Harrison, and his 15.2 yards a catch are nearly a yard better than Harrison (14.4).

Wayne has been building toward this level of play ever since being a late first-round selection of the Colts in 2001 after a career at the University of Miami where he set a school record for career receptions. Wayne's numbers have improved in each season, and his breakout season came two years ago when he caught 12 of Peyton Manning's NFL-record 49 touchdown passes.

"That's what you play to be, you try to be the guy, even if you're not the guy," Wayne said yesterday. "Who dreams of being the other guy? It makes me continue to work harder. My goals are to try to improve every year. I try to get a yard better than I did the year before, so I can keep setting milestones."

Colts coach Tony Dungy expects the Ravens to play more man-to-man than the Kansas City Chiefs did in the wild-card playoff game last Saturday at the RCA Dome. The Colts won, 23-8, but Wayne was limited to five catches for 36 yards, while Harrison caught two for 48, including a 42-yarder.

If the Ravens play the way Dungy expects, in particular against Wayne, it could mean more big-play chances for the 6-foot, 198-pound receiver.

"Reggie is a fine, fine receiver," Dungy said. "He's smart, he's got strong hands, he's a very good route runner, he's a good runner after the catch. He can do a lot of things. He's in an offense where he gets to catch a lot of balls. I know a lot of people would love to have Reggie Wayne."

Wayne's selection to the Pro Bowl came a couple of months after one of his two older brothers was killed in a car accident. Rashad Wayne was 32. Wayne went home to Louisiana to grieve for a few days, but was back for the team's next game.

"All that's been an inspiration," Wayne said. "It just adds fuel to the fire. I just want to go out and perform even better. It makes me want to dedicate everything to him."

Sun reporter Edward Lee contributed to this article.

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