Werner progressing in Mathis' starting spot

ANDERSON, Ind. -- It was anybody’s guess how Indianapolis Colts second-year linebacker Bjoern Werner would do starting in place of the soon-to-be-suspended Robert Mathis.

Werner made his first start in the preseason opener against the New York Jets last week. His final stat line wasn’t a headline grabber, as he played 25 snaps and finished with two tackles. Werner had several plays where he came off the edge to force Jets quarterback Geno Smith to step up in the pocket.

“From the first game last year? It’s just slowed down a little bit,” Werner said. “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.”

One of the areas of concern for the Colts while Mathis serves his four-game suspension is whether they can get a good enough pass rush in his absence. Indianapolis’ first two games are against the Denver Broncos and Philadelphia Eagles, who have two of the better offenses in the league.

So Werner’s ability to get pressure on the quarterback needs to turn into sacks.

"I think Bjoern, where he left off last year and continuing to grow through the preseason, training camp and OTAs, he had a good start for the first time he was out there in live action from last year. But usually the transition for those outside linebackers usually take about two years, and right now he is in the process of still learning the system, got a little calls here and there that are a little different,” Colts defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said. “So far for his first outing, he did a pretty good job."

Mathis, who led the NFL with 19.5 sacks last season, sat out the game against the Jets, but he’s expected to play at some point in the preseason before beginning his suspension. He’ll return to the team Sept. 29 and his first game will be Oct. 5 against the Baltimore Ravens.

“I'm really, really happy he's around and I can learn from him so much and it's just, ‘Be confident in yourself and trust your moves, try to this play like that,’” Werner said. “It's just amazing this guy that has been doing it for 12 years and is really successful and just trying to spread his wisdom. Just because I'm not a rookie anymore, I'm still going to be like last year and just try to get everything out of him. He's willing to help me and we talk the whole time in the meeting room. There is just great communication going on."