The first two years of Bjoern Werner's NFL career have been nothing short of a disappointment. Poor play has plagued him for most of the time, with just brief glimpses of the potential that made him the 24th overall pick in the 2013 draft. There's no denying the product on the field; the only question is what has caused it. And it sounds like injuries have been the reason.
"It's that simple," Werner told the Indianapolis Star's Stephen Holder on Wednesday. "Since I've entered the league, I haven't been healthy one time."
He noted that he tried to tough it out and play through injuries, but it got to the point where head coach Chuck Pagano decided to sit him for the AFC Championship game because of it. That was the reason that general manager Ryan Grigson gave shortly after the game, though it wasn't convincing. It's the same thing that Pagano said on Wednesday, however, when asked what the biggest thing is that Werner needs to work on.
"The biggest thing for him is just stay healthy because we've seen him do it," Pagano told the media on Wednesday. "I've got video evidence, we've got it on a tape of him doing it and playing at a high level and being productive. Now, it's just matter of him staying healthy. If he can stay healthy, he'll have a great year. You've got to be out there. Because the only way you gain confidence is by playing and making plays and making them on a consistent basis and being there Week One, Week Two, Week Three, etc. Knock on wood, we get him healthy and he can stay healthy and we get him through training camp and through the preseason and into the regular season. Then obviously if he's out there, he'll have a great year. We've just got to keep him healthy."
Pagano isn't the only one who thinks that, if he can stay healthy, Werner would have a good season in 2015. The pass rusher thinks the same thing, and he said as much to Holder. "I don't want to sound cocky," Werner said, "but personally, I feel like when I'm out there and healthy, I can be a baller. I can do it all. You always have to get that mojo going of course. But I'm telling you, I'm confident I can be an NFL player and a starter in this league."
For what it's worth, Holder believes Werner's injury story, and indeed it should likely be given the benefit of the doubt. We knew that he was injured in 2013, and we also knew that he was dealing with some minor injuries in 2014 as well, so it's not a big stretch to think that those injuries plagued him more than we initially realized.
The bottom line, however, is this: you have to be able to produce. Teams may be willing to be more patient with you if you've been playing through injuries, but there comes a point where, regardless of injuries or whatever other reasons there may be for poor play, you have to produce on the field. Werner hasn't, and whether that's because of injuries or because of something else, he's going to have to produce at some point. It sounds like the first step to doing so is going to be just staying on the field and getting healthy, and hopefully Pagano and Werner are right about him playing at a high level if he can do that.
Pagano didn't really answer the question on Wednesday of whether Werner is a candidate to play strong side linebacker instead of rush linebacker, instead saying that, "he's athletic enough to play either. He's a bonus. He can play either outside position for us because he can play in space as well as set the edge, rush the passer and play coverage. He's not limited to one side or the other."
He played at rush linebacker last year, but with Jonathan Newsome, Robert Mathis, and Trent Cole occupying that spot, it might make more sense to give Werner some more reps on the other side, as he's shown to be better against the run than against the pass in his career so far. Wherever Werner ends up playing, however (and it will likely be a mix of both), he needs to be healthy. And though his first two years have been a disappointment, hopefully that health is the key to him playing well on the field in 2015.