Shortly after training camp began, I pointed out the fact that Bjoern Werner appeared to be practicing at strongside outside linebacker rather than at the rush linebacker spot where he played last year. And with the release of the Colts' first (unofficial) depth chart yesterday, more people began noticing that Werner was listed at the strongside linebacker spot.
It has been a rough first two years in the league for the former first round draft pick, and last year he played at rush linebacker as the Colts needed him to step up in place of the injured Robert Mathis - something he didn't do but that rather rookie Jonathan Newsome did instead. Werner was drafted to be a pass rusher, but so far in his two years in the league he has played much better against the run. Because of that, it makes perfect sense to move him to the strongside spot. It means that he will spend less time pass rushing and more time playing in run defense and coverage.
In fact, when asked what the biggest difference between the two outside linebacker spots is that Werner will have to adjust to this year, head coach Chuck Pagano said it is "probably coverage. He's going to have to do a little bit more coverage. That's probably the biggest, but Bjoern is more than capable. He knows both spots and he's going to play both spots over the course of preseason and the regular season."
Werner has recorded just 6.5 sacks since entering the league in 2013, and four of them came during a three week span in 2014. If you ask the Colts or Werner, however, the reason for a lot of his struggles has been because he can't stay healthy. Pagano mentioned it again when asked if Werner was dealing with any frustration. "Well, when you are not 100 percent and you're battling whatever you are battling from an injury standpoint it can become frustrating," Pagano said Wednesday. "But again this time of year you walk into camp and you feel really, really good and after the first practice you're never going to feel the same and as the year goes on you have to be a great pro and you have to take care of yourself. Anybody that's dealing with nagging stuff, it can become frustrating, but they have to focus on what they need to focus on and not let that become a distraction. It is what it is, take care of your body and he's doing that."
So according to the Colts, it's crucial for Werner to stay healthy this year. So is he doing that? After all, he has sat out two practices during training camp - is that because of the shoulder injury that plagued him a bit during OTAs? Pagano refused to indulge in any details as to why Werner has sat out those practices. "I don't want to get into specifics on why we are doing what we are doing," Pagano said. "We are going to be as smart as we can with our football team and with our football players and if a guy needs a day here and there for obvious reasons then we are going to give it to him."
Regardless of what the reason is for Werner sitting out of practice (it may just be rest - we don't really know), it's clear that 2015 will be a big year for him. The Colts are moving him away from rush linebacker and instead to the strongside, and with the skills he has shown in his first two years in the league, that is the right move to make. The Colts have talent at the rush linebacker spot with Robert Mathis, Trent Cole, and Jonathan Newsome, while Werner can back up Erik Walden on the other side - a spot that better fits the play we've seen from him so far in the NFL. I'm still skeptical and waiting until I actually see it on the field, but I do think that if Werner is going to succeed with the Colts, it will probably be at the strongside linebacker spot. He hasn't shown much in the area of pass rush, but he has done a solid job in other areas. Giving him a chance at a spot that better emphasizes those areas is smart and gives a reason for hope regarding Bjoern Werner at a time when perhaps there aren't many of those reasons to be found.