ANDERSON — As Bjoern Werner finished signing autographs for a portion of the estimated 6,200 fans who attended Sunday’s afternoon practice at Anderson University, he was collected by an Indianapolis Colts media relations staffer on a golf cart.
At midfield, the cart stopped abruptly so the outside linebacker could hop out and haul in two pairs of shoulder pads. The numbers on the jerseys hanging from them were clearly visible - 90 (Cory Redding) and 98 (Robert Mathis).
Carrying the veterans’ pads is part of the rookie’s daily routine. And like nearly everything else about his NFL experience thus far, Werner welcomes it with open arms.
“I mean, if that’s the hazing, I’ll take it,” he said. “It’s not that bad, really not that bad.”
That’s also a pretty fair description of Werner’s first full week of professional football. The former Florida State star is working behind Mathis at the rush linebacker position in the base defense and playing with the first unit essentially as a defensive end in nickel packages.
He said on draft day that he was eager to learn from Mathis, whom he used as an avatar when he played Madden NFL video games growing up in Germany, and now he’s soaking in as much as he can from the 11th-year star.
“He never really pulls me aside just because I go straight to him,” Werner said. “He’s a great guy and just a great mentor and just a great person.
So I can go over to him and talk to him any time, and it’s a lot of fun.
Maybe other teams would be like the old guys would pull away, (say) to the rookies, ‘Don’t talk to me, don’t talk to me.’ But him and Cory are just in the locker room right next to them. We’re just talking every time. They make me feel comfortable.”
That’s exactly what head coach Chuck Pagano wants to hear.
The Colts are trying to bring the first-round pick along slowly, not overload him with too much information and too much responsibility too early.
The coaches have been impressed with the speed at which Werner processes new concepts, and his transition from a 4-3 defensive end in college to a
3-4 outside linebacker in Indianapolis is going well.
Some believed the rookie might be put on the fast track to compete with free-agent addition Erik Walden at the sam outside linebacker position.
But the Colts have chosen instead to install Werner as Mathis’ backup and allow him to play the rush linebacker position - which is closer to the role he played as the Atlantic Coast Conference Defensive Player of the Year last season.
“I think for us to ankle weight him, so to speak, and slow him down because he’s thinking and move him around in our base package, right now the plan is to leave him at rush, leave him behind Robert for the time being,” Pagano said. “Because we’re taxing him pretty good once we get to our third-down sub package, and we’re giving him a lot there. So right now we’re just going to leave him (at rush) and let him grow from there.”
Werner doesn’t seem to care where he plays.
He’s living a dream in the NFL, and he’s not afraid to admit it.
“It drains you, but it’s a lot of fun,” Werner said about his first week of camp. “This is a job right now, and in college you’re like, ‘Oh, I have to train and I have to go to school.’ I’m going to keep going, just football, football, football, and that’s awesome. You can focus only on one thing. I love it so far.”