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2014 Colts Pressure Players: OLB Bjoern Werner

The Colts have several players who will be under pressure in the 2014 season based on their play (or lack thereof) in 2013, and we'll look at some of them in advance of training camp. Today we look at outside linebacker Bjoern Werner.

Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

Due to the nature of the fact that Bjoern Werner was the Colts' first round pick last year, fans obviously expect him to produce.  Since he didn't have a great rookie season and because the position he plays is one where the Colts could use help, Werner had pressure on him entering the 2014 season anyway.  After Robert Mathis was suspended for the first four games of the season, however, the pressure intensified greatly.

Werner is a pass rusher.  At Florida State he tallied 23.5 sacks, as well as 35 tackles for loss, a pick, and 17 pass deflections.  But he is a pass rusher first, and that's what the Colts drafted him for.  Hopefully he will continue to develop into an every down player who can handle the full-time starting role (which he'll be thrust into this year in Mathis's absence, but the first step for Werner is to step up as the pass rusher the Colts drafted him to be.  In his rookie season he was hampered by injury and managed just 2.5 sacks on the season - though he noticeably improved as the season went on and Werner got healthy.  Still, for a first round pick, Colts fans expect more out of Werner, and the team does as well.

In 2013, Robert Mathis racked up a league-leading 19.5 sacks and accounted for 46.43% of the team's sack total - a crazy high number.  While the next highest sack total on the team was Jerrell Freeman's 5.5, three other players in addition to Mathis (Freeman, Cory Redding, and Erik Walden) had more sacks than Werner and another (Ricky Jean Francois) had just as many.  That left Bjoern Werner tied for fifth on the team in sacks with 2.5.  They absolutely need more from him in 2014.  Firstly, they need more from him because he was their first round pick.  Originally he was going to be the team's situational pass rusher, and they need him to step up and provide pass rush - which the Colts lacked severely last year aside from Mathis.

Now, with Mathis out for the first four weeks, Werner won't just be a situational pass rusher but will be counted on to step in and start to begin the season.  Considering the Colts play the Broncos, Eagles, Jaguars, and Titans, they would have needed Werner to step up and help in the area of pass rushing even with Mathis.  The pass rush is such a key area for defenses, as in today's passing league failing to rush the passer results in leaving the secondary out to dry and ultimately ends up in quarterbacks picking apart the defense often.  That's what the Colts are in danger of, especially with Mathis out.  Mathis accounted for such a high percentage of the team's pass rush production last season that even with him in the lineup the Colts needed to improve in the area - now, they'll need to improve a ton more, and the focus ultimately shifts to Bjoern Werner to step up.

When I was writing about how the Colts will "replace" Robert Mathis, here's what I wrote about Werner:

"First and foremost, the player who absolutely must step up is Bjoern Werner.  Last year's first round draft pick notched just 2.5 sacks in his rookie campaign, though he really showed improvement as the season neared an end.  He missed time due to injury last year which certainly slowed his development a bit, and also, the expectation many Colts fans had for a rookie pass rusher was ridiculous - largely created by the team not having any other legitimate pass rush options other than Mathis.  That said, even by realistic expectations, his season was a disappointment and the Colts need him to step up in 2014 - now in an even bigger way.  He'll be thrust into a starting role at the rush linebacker spot on primetime against Peyton Manning, and he will be counted on to perform.   Basically, in 2014 Werner was ok against the run and was ok at setting the edge.  Room to improve, certainly, but that's not why some people are already calling him a "bust" (which, by the way, is way too early, in my opinion).  Where Werner needs to improve is the very area he was drafted to help with, and that's pass rush.  I initially thought that he would contribute more in the pass rush area and then learn the other areas like run defense and coverage, but it turned out to be the opposite and I think the biggest area where he needs to improve this year is in his pass rush.  Coming into the NFL a big knock on him was that he played too upright - meaning he stood up too high when rushing.  That was true last season for Werner, and that alone contributed to much of Werner's ineffectiveness in the pass rush.  In other words, I think a lot of it is technique for Werner, and hopefully head coach Chuck Pagano, defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, and linebackers coach Jeff FitzGerald can help him improve in that area.  If he does, I think we'll see significant improvement from Werner on the field in terms of pass rush.  And if he can step in and provide solid pass rush for the Colts defense (not even anything spectacular but just solid and consistent), that will be huge and will go a long ways to helping replace Mathis."

Based purely on the fact that Werner was the first round pick of the Colts last year and the fact that he had just 2.5 sacks in his rookie season, the pressure was going to be on Bjoern Werner anyway.  With Robert Mathis out for the first four games, however, the Colts will need him to play well and they will need him to really improve quickly.  I'm confident that he'll be much better in 2014, though expecting him to really replace Mathis is a much too unrealistic expectation.  That's what he'll be asked to do, however, and while we can't expect him to replace Mathis's production, we should expect him to play well and to provide more pass rush than he did last year.  The Colts desperately need him to.  Clearly, the pressure is on.