ANDERSON, Ind. – The questions started moments after the NFL announced more than two months ago that Indianapolis Colts linebacker Robert Mathis would be the suspended for the first four games of the 2014 season.
Who will start in Mathis’ place?
How will the Colts make up for Mathis’ 19.5 sacks in 2013?
Can the Colts survive without their defensive leader during those four games that include matchups against Denver and Philadelphia, two of the better offenses in the league?
Answers for the second and third questions will remain uncertain until the Colts play regular-season games. An answer for the first question is becoming clearer.
It was no secret that second-year player Bjoern Werner would get the first shot at starting in Mathis’ absence, but Colts coach Chuck Pagano further emphasized it on Friday.
“Bjoern is going to get the lion's share of the snaps with the [starters],” Pagano said. “We’ll get Robert what he needs as far as individual drills. … We’ve got to prepare for reality, the reality we’re not going to have Robert for the first four weeks. We’ve got to get the other guys ready to go and at the same time, we can’t let Robert sit around for four weeks because it turns into essentially what would be an eight-week suspension if we did that.”
But as now, it’s Werner’s job to lose. He had 15 tackles and 2.5 sacks last season as a rookie.
“He never took a week off, maybe two max, after the season, he was here the entire offseason, long before April 21,” Pagano said. “He’s put the time in from a terminology and scheme standpoint. He’s able to play extremely fast. He knows the defense pretty much inside and out.”
Werner had a strong first day of training camp, intercepting an Andrew Luck pass that was tipped and then tipping a pass himself that led to an interception.
“Last year Rob got all the sacks for himself,” Werner said. “We need some people to step up and get some sacks, too. Put that pressure on the quarterback. If you put that pressure on the quarterback, you’re going to win a lot of games.”