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Bengals Welcome Return to Waynes World: 'I'm Not Limited In Any Way'

Trae Waynes gives the Bengals elite skill on the corner.
Trae Waynes gives the Bengals elite skill on the corner.

Trae Waynes still remembers the rep. He still remembers the set. He still remembers the weight.

He still can't believe his shoulder exploded, blowing up his season with surgery that wiped out his 2020 season before it even began.

But what he can believe is that whenever the Bengals get back on the practice field, and no one has any idea when that is, he'll be out there.

"I'm fine. I'm not limited in any way. I've been doing basically everything I'm able to do," Waynes reported from his offseason this week. "I would say 100 percent. I feel fine."

Barring a trade in the April 29 first round of the NFL Draft, Waynes is one of a quartet of top 11 picks they'll take into Opening Day.

They currently hold the fifth pick. Quarterback Joe Burrow was last year's overall No. 1 pick, of course. The year before that left tackle Jonah Williams arrived via the 11th pick. And if you forgot the Vikings took Waynes No. 11 in 2015, the Bengals haven't.

This guy is almost like a bonus free agent signing. In fact, no cornerback signed in free agency for the $14 million per Waynes received last year in free agency. That's a big reason the Bengals apparently let cornerback William Jackson III sign in Washington (for a corner market best $13.5 million, according to because they already felt they had upgraded the secondary with a high-powered deal that got erased for a year with one of the freakier injuries in Bengals history.

"It wasn't overly heavy," said Waynes of the bar he lifted in the Bengals weight room during that fateful bench press in August when they were readying to get out on the field the next week.

"It was the first rep of the third set. I just took it off the bar.  I love benching. I can bench all day, every day. Then …"

The official name of the muscle is "pectoralis," but there was no official reason why his pec could have possibly, improbably, torn. It ripped up Wayne's skein of playing at least 14 games in each of his five seasons in Minnesota and for the first time in his life he sat out an entire season.

Bench all day? That was all part of his supersonic NFL scouting combine at Indianapolis in 2015. Before blazing to a 4.31-second 40-yard dash, the 6-0, 190-pound Waynes bench-pressed 225 pounds 19 times, which was in the top 12 percentile for his position and top nine for his size.

"Great athlete and a great corner," says Bengals cornerbacks coach Steven Jackson. "He does all the things you want in a corner. He's got all the intangibles and he's got the physical skill set. He's been good his whole life."

While the Vikings reportedly shopped Waynes before a 2019 season Pro Football Focus didn't grade him kindly, the Bengals immediately jumped on him in free agency for a variety of reasons that range from his rugged Midwest makeup to terrific measurable to solid tape for a playoff team.

Club insiders believe Waynes has elite speed and change-of-direction and the fact he'll turn 29 in July (just three months before Jackson) makes him one of those young, experienced vets the Bengals love. He's the oldest of the projected defensive starters even after this latest free-agent catch netted four starters.

"He's a professional in every sense of the word," Jackson says. "Just by the questions he asks and the way he handles himself. Nothing is sporadic. It's thought out. It's learned. It's executed."

A native of Wisconsin and a Big Ten product from Michigan State, Waynes knows how to tackle and is willing to do it with Rust Belt reliability. Bengals rehab director and Indiana native Nick Cosgray is a fan: "Trae's great to work with in there. Very business-like."

It may be no coincidence that Waynes is the latest in a line of top ten-ish cornerbacks looking to revive his career with the Bengals, a group that includes Terence Newman (a No. 5 draft pick) and Adam Jones (No. 6), players that excelled in a new environment.

Newman, it turns out, became his mentor in Minnesota and the relationship reveals why the Bengals think Waynes fits into a secondary brimming with high football intelligence.

"T.New was a huge help. He was one of the biggest helps who was another coach to me," Waynes told last year. "We would go in Tuesdays on our days off. Just study film me and him. We'd go over the next week's opponent. He would teach me how to take notes, how to stay in the game. He would help me during the game. A lot of it comes from him."

Waynes makes no bones about it. Even though he's coming to a similar defense from the one run by Bengals old friend Mike Zimmer in Minnesota and even though he's had the playbook for a year, he'll feel better once he gets on the field.

"I learn better in person. Making mistakes in person and then learning the plays," Waynes said. "That's the thing that kind of makes it a little tough with everything virtual. I was pretty excited to get in person and go through the motions with the team and coaches and learn that way. Then a freak accident happened and it kind of set me back a little bit."

It was hectic stay on injured reserve, but it shows his tenacity. Waynes kept going to the Zoom meetings after the surgery while also juggling rehab and therapy. Late in the season, the schedule changed daily and rapidly because of COVID protocols. You could get a day wiped out.

"Frustrating," Waynes said.

But he kept with it enough that if the Bengals had been in contention, he may have been able to get back for the last month or so.

"I never had the experience of sitting out a season. It was kind of weird," Waynes said. "It was challenging. I wanted to stay in shape, but stay in shape the right way. I wasn't able to do anything upper body wise. For months, all I did was lower body. It was just a different feel."

In response, Waynes expanded his offseason running program with some distance and speed work in a regimen that includes two-a-days. After he works out in the morning, he'll report to a position coach later in the day.

"I'm just trying to push myself pretty hard so whenever we do show up, I'm not behind," Waynes said.

With him in the lineup, the Bengals figure they are already ahead of last year.