Being back on field for Bengals ‘a relief’ for veteran defensive back

Free agent addition Trae Waynes missed entire 2020 season due to injury

A “fluke injury” for Trae Waynes couldn’t have come at a worse time than last summer.

The former Minnesota Vikings cornerback had just gotten started with his new Cincinnati Bengals team when he sustained a pectoral injury early in training camp while lifting weights.

Waynes, who signed a three-year, $42 million contract last offseason, missed the entire year, and because of COVID-19 restrictions, he was unable to be around the team for almost all of his first season in Cincinnati.

Now, with the offseason workout program underway in the second week of Organized Team Activities, he’s basically re-starting the process of getting acclimated to a new system and new teammates.

“It was frustrating just because I was really looking forward to coming in here and being able to work with the guys,” Waynes said Tuesday in his first interview with local media since he signed in March 2020. “I was gonna look at that year as really trying to understand the defense and understand the scheming, and it was frustrating, but it’s football. That’s what happens.”

Waynes said he came to Cincinnati looking for a fresh start last year, and he was excited during his recruitment by what the coaches had to say and the care they seemed to invest in their players.

That came to fruition even while he was injured.

“I mean, the biggest thing is communication,” Waynes said. “They’re always willing to reach out and just check: ‘How’s your day? How you doing?’ Little stuff like that, which I wasn’t really used to. So whenever it would happen, I was like, ‘Did I do something wrong?’ and they were just calling to check up on you.”

Waynes now has four practices under his belt in OTAs and said “it’s a relief” to be on the field again. He was tired of watching from afar last year, and there was only so much learning he could do without actually putting it into practice.

Because the entire offseason was done virtually, Waynes only had about a week of on-field activity last year before his injury occurred in early August. There were some similarities he was able to draw on from his time in Minnesota to understand the schemes the Bengals run on defense, but he learned most of it on Zoom.

“I feel like I’m getting a pretty good idea of it, though,” Waynes said. “It’s just I’m an in-person learner. So like, I’m the kind that has to do it, mess up, just see my mistakes. I mean, last year was tough because the majority of it was over Zoom. And, I’m an in-person kind of guy so being here actually really helped.”

Last year was not a total waste. He was at least able to watch the Bengals and get a feel for what they were doing, but the biggest thing he learned while away from the team was patience, he said.

“Especially last year being injured and with COVID happening, I was very limited with what I could do around the building so I spent a lot of time at home,” Waynes said. “When I wasn’t at home, I was here by myself or just with the training staff or like the strength coaches, but like a lot of times by myself so I definitely had to learn patience.”

Waynes said he hopes to show fans and his new teammates that he is “fast, physical and willing to tackle.” He is eying a starting role, of course, but said his big contract has nothing to do with his motivation.

Bengals coach Zac Taylor looks forward to seeing how Waynes can impact the defense after having to wait an extra year. Now, Waynes is one of three new starting cornerbacks after the team moved on from William Jackson III and after slot corner Mackenzie Alexander went back to Minnesota after one season. Chidobe Awuzie and Mike Hilton join Waynes as the expected starting corners.

Taylor said it’s “really comforting” to have Waynes practicing again, and he doesn’t seem to have missed a beat.

“He’s a guy we brought here for a reason,” Taylor said Tuesday. “I really like his game. I studied him a lot over the years. We played him several times and then obviously studying him in free agency before we signed him, so it is really nice to get him back on the field. He’s seen a lot of football, played a lot of football, similar coverage types as what we have here so to the naked eye it appears to be second nature for me, just watching him get out there, get adjusted to the scheme finally in person. I’m sure there’s some nuances that takes some getting used to but to me he looks like he’s really hit the ground running.”

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