One of the most encouraging players in both training camp and last night's preseason opener has been second year outside linebacker Bjoern Werner. While he was going to be taking on a bigger role anyway this year, the suspension of Robert Mathis for the first four games has thrust Werner into the limelight, as he'll be counted on to start and be the team's primary pass rusher in the first four weeks.
Last night, Werner played very well, but he knows there's always room to improve. As he said this morning on a conference call with media:
"It was a solid performance but you can always do better. It was the first time out there. It was a lot of fun just seeing different bodies and finally just getting some normal football. You can actually hit the quarterback and the running back so it was a lot of fun. Like I said, you can always do better so next game is going to be better."
Werner was then asked what the defense needs to do to get better like Werner talked about, and his answer was clear: communication.
"We're always trying to focus on communication because if we play as a team, we're going to be the best defense out there in every aspect. The front line, the backfield, and we're just trying to get all of it. All 11 people, players on the field, wherever they are, they have to communicate and you know have the same call and be on the same level. You can't get big plays if you're never on the same level and if people don't communicate right so we're always trying to communicate right. Everybody's playing the same call and everybody has their job to do."
Last year wasn't a good rookie campaign for the first round draft pick, as he managed just 2.5 sacks all year in an injury plagued season. Fans were obviously discouraged yet still hesitantly hopeful that there would be improvement from Werner. So far, he has been much better. He attributes that to the game just slowing down a lot:
"It's just slowed down a little bit. Yesterday I played a little more free; just all the calls I had I didn't have to think about it. It was really more like, ‘Ok, I'll do my job, and then from there try to make a play,' instead of just being in my own thoughts during the game and playing slow. It's real slow right now. Everything's slowed down and it's just a lot of fun."
You could make a legitimate case that he has been the MVP of training camp and he has shown off impressive pass rush skills and perhaps most importantly has shown that he has improved his initial burst off the snap. We saw it in camp and were hoping to see it in a game, and for at least last night, we did. Fans will still say, "wait until we see it in the regular season" to get really excited. I get it. They've seen guys like Jerry Hughes and Caesar Rayford have great preseasons yet not do much at all in the regular season. With Werner, we do need to wait and see, but so far, everything has been encouraging - from camp to preseason to his work ethic and attitude.
If he can play in the regular season like he did last night, not only will the four games without Mathis be more manageable but the twelve-plus games with Mathis back will be even stronger.