Colts star pass rusher Robert Mathis will miss the first four games of the regular season this year due to a violation of the league's PED policy. It sounds like he'll miss more than just those first four regular season games, though. Mathis, who has yet to play in either of the Colts' first two preseason games, might very well not play at all in the preseason this year.
"We understand that we're going to be without Rob, and we've got to make sure that from a preparation standpoint, staying in it mentally throughout the course of practice, those types of things, you get him enough," Colts head coach Chuck Pagano said in a conference call with Indianapolis media this afternoon. "There's a fine line because we know we're not going to have him for four weeks. He's not going to be available. You've got to get the other guys ready to go, get them playing time and get them the snaps that they need. It's tough. You've just got to manage it the best that you can.
"I'm not going to say we've totally ruled out the idea of him playing in the preseason. We'll just take it day-by-day. I know we've got two opportunities left and we'll just see where we're at. If there's an opportunity and it makes sense for us to get him out there, then we will."
Very non-committal stuff from Pagano, and to me it sounds like we're unlikely to see Mathis out there at all this preseason, meaning that his 2014 debut will likely come in week five, on October 5, at home against the Baltimore Ravens. Of course, nothing is definitive yet, but it sure sounds like Mathis won't be suiting up anytime soon.
The suspension has given Pagano and the coaches the problem of trying to figure out how best to handle training camp and preseason, when Mathis is eligible. They know that he'll be coming back and therefore they need to get him some work, but at the same time it's also important to get Bjoern Werner a lot of work with the first team, since he'll be starting there the first four weeks. I think the Colts have taken the right approach in giving Werner the overwhelming majority of first team reps in camp and preseason and having Mathis play a bit with the first team but mainly with the second team or just watching. The veteran Mathis doesn't need the work nearly as much as the second-year Werner.
No matter how you look at it, the loss of Mathis for the first four games is a huge one. He led the league and set a Colts franchise record for the most sacks in a season with 19.5 last year, and his value to the Colts went far beyond just that great number. On the encouraging side of things, however, Bjoern Werner has looked tremendous in camp and preseason, and rookie Jonathan Newsome has looked good as a pass rusher too. Furthermore, defensive coordinator Greg Manusky has been dialing up a very aggressive blitzing scheme that, so far, has worked very well in the first two games. While the Colts won't be able to replace Mathis, there are signs that hopefully it won't be the complete disaster we feared it could be Plus, if the pass rush produces with Mathis out, just imagine what it can do with Mathis back!
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. In fact, we're probably getting way ahead of ourselves, as it sounds very unlikely that we'll see the Colts' all-time leading sack leader Robert Mathis on the field until October.