On the morning of July 19, Brielle Emma-Rose Mathis was born to parents Robert and Brandi Mathis. According to the Indianapolis Star, she weighed 7.3 pounds and was 19 1/2 inches. Mathis confirmed today that both baby and mother are doing well. Mathis added of his daughter:
"She's the apple of my eye. I don't think I could love anything more than being a father. Well except being a husband. But I'm very happy, very beautiful and I'm just a happy father."
When compared to the birth of his little girl, a four-game suspension for Robert Mathis is nothing. This offseason, Mathis was suspended by the NFL for the first four games of the 2014 season for the use of the fertility drug clomid, which is prohibited under the league's substance abuse policy. Mathis was using the drug in an attempt to get his wife pregnant, as the couple were struggling with infertility issues. The league's policy is clear, however, and Mathis failed to double-check with the policy before taking the drug.
While in the big picture of things a four game suspension is nothing compared to his daughter, the fact of the matter for the Colts is that they'll be without the league's reigning sack champion and their best defensive player. Colts head coach Chuck Pagano talked Friday about Mathis' replacement, Bjoern Werner, and if he's going to see extra snaps in camp:
"Absolutely. I mean, we've got to prepare for reality. Reality is we're not going to have Robert for the first four weeks, so we've got to get the other guys ready to go. At the same time, we can't let Robert sit around for four weeks because then it turns into essentially what would be an eight-week suspension if we did that. So Bjoern's going to get the lion's share of the snaps with the ones. We'll get Robert what he needs as far as individual drills. We'll work him into, you saw him in there with the twos from time to time so he can stay sharp from a skillset standpoint, technique, fundamentals, saving it mentally. Then we've also got to get Cam Johnson, Aaron Morgan, (Daniel) Adongo, we've got to get those guys some snaps."
In saying that, Chuck Pagano confirmed what we already saw in the first day of training camp. Here's what I wrote yesterday about that balance we saw in practice that Pagano confirmed today:
"OLB Balance: Along those same lines, the Colts have a very interesting balance that they are trying to find right now with Werner and Mathis. Mathis won't play the first four games, but he'll be back after that, so he does need to get work in camp. But Werner needs work as well, and he'll be starting the first four games and playing a lot after that too. Today, the Colts played Werner with the first team defense and he got a lot of snaps there, while Mathis subbed in some with the first team and played some with the second team too. We'll see how they continue to handle that."
The time is now for Bjoern Werner to step up. The Colts find themselves in an interesting situation because of Mathis' suspension. The star veteran will be back after week four and is currently working at camp, and the Colts have to get him work. If they want to reach their goals of the Super Bowl, Mathis will have to play well, and so they've got to give him enough opportunities to get ready for his play when he comes back. Mathis is working just as hard as ever in camp. But he's not working as much, and that's because the Colts also realize that they'll have to face the Broncos, Eagles, Jaguars, and Titans without Mathis. As such, Bjoern Werner has been getting a lot of the work with the first team unit on defense, and he has looked good in doing so. He's had several tipped and broken up passes (a few of which led to picks), and some nice pass rush. Chuck Pagano is very impressed with Werner, and he said as much today:
"He made a huge, huge jump. He might have took a week off, maybe two max after the season, and he was here the entire offseason long before April 21st. He's at a point now where, again knock on wood, if he stays healthy and everything goes according to Hoyle, the kid has put the time in, he's really worked. From a terminology standpoint, scheme standpoint, he's not thinking right now. He's able to play extremely fast. He knows the defense pretty much inside and out and he's very comfortable. You know he's got ability. So the things that you're seeing, and we're seeing the same things, but again it's all a byproduct of the time that he put in in the offseason, the time that he put in in the OTAs and the minicamp. He went back and watched a little bit of soccer obviously, but he's in a great place right now."
Robert Mathis is also impressed with Werner's improvement:
"He's going to shine. He's doing good, he's getting at the ball, knows his assignments and playing some good football right now... [He has improved] Leaps and bounds. He knows what he's doing. He can play fast and there is more reaction than thinking. That's what defense is. Defense is just reaction, reacting to what the offense gives you, and he can do that. Give the plays, he knows where he's going so he can just go."
Many fans were disappointed with Werner's rookie campaign last year, which was marred by injuries and in which he managed just 2.5 sacks. He was going to need to step up anyway, and that was before Mathis' suspension. Now, all eyes have turned to last year's first round pick and are watching to see how he'll replace Mathis. The Colts are watching that as well, and they're making sure in camp he gets as many opportunities as he can to get ready.
While there's really nothing that can prepare you for going up against Peyton Manning in week one, going up against Andrew Luck every day in practice is a pretty good way to prepare, and Bjoern Werner is clearly getting plenty of opportunities to do just that.