INDIANAPOLIS – Bjoern Werner still remembers using pass rushers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis on his Madden NFL all-star team.
Now he’ll try to replace one and learn from the other.
I was a young kid then and now I can ask Robert Mathis questions. That’s crazy, said Werner, the Indianapolis Colts’ first-round draft pick. I can’t believe that. I can ask him questions and he can teach me stuff, if he’s willing to, but I hope he does.
Less than 24 hours after Commissioner Roger Goodell announced the German-born player was the 24th overall pick in Thursday’s draft, Werner arrived Friday in Indianapolis.
He said he and his wife are planning to find a new home in Indianapolis. He’s still trying to figure out when his parents might actually see him play a football game on American soil for the first time. He’s figuring out how to get his parents access to watching all of his games in his home country, and, of course, he’s eager to show the Colts what he can do on the field.
On Day 2 of the draft Friday, the Colts selected guard Hugh Thornton in the third round. The 6-foot-5, 320-pound Illinois alum adds depth to an offensive line the Colts have tried to reinforce through free agency.
For Werner, the fit couldn’t be any better.
He’ll be playing on the opposite side of one of his childhood favorites, with a team he watched last season, in a system that has had success with similar players and for a coach he already has a fondness for.
He’s different. I watched him on TV, and the whole thing last year was so inspiring, Werner said of Colts coach Chuck Pagano. I’m so happy that I’m playing for him and he’s going to start coaching me and yelling at me on the practice field and, honestly, I can’t wait.
Werner spent much of Friday’s news conference explaining how a German-born athlete who was initially interested in soccer became such a big NFL fan. The conversion began at age 12 when a classmate brought an American football to school for a game of toss.
Soon, Werner was playing flag football, watching the older boys playing tackle football and attending NFL Europe games. He believed NFL Europe would be a launching pad to earning a practice squad spot in the NFL – until the league folded.
Turns out, he didn’t need to go through the developmental league anyway.
After coming to America as a foreign-exchange student, then returning home for a year, then coming back to the U.S., the Florida State coaches spotted him. All Werner did in Tallahassee was play in all 14 games as a freshman, finish his career with 23 1/2 sacks and 18 passes defensed and be named the 2012 ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
Pagano expects the long, lanky rookie to help set the edge on runs, replace Freeney as a pass-rusher and complement Mathis.
While nobody in the Colts’ organization, or Werner, wanted to make comparisons to other players, there is one that might make sense.
Before coming to Indianapolis, Pagano worked in Baltimore with a player who had a similar résumé: Terrell Suggs, the Ravens’ first-round pick in 2003.
Suggs is listed at 6-foot-3, 260 pounds, but some teams were fearful after he ran a 4.84-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine.
Werner checks in a 6-3, 266 and, like Suggs, slid down some draft boards after running a 4.83 in February.
Back then, the Ravens insisted Suggs’ times meant little because he played faster in pads than shorts. The Colts said the same thing Thursday.
You put on the film and he’s the first one off the ball every down, he’s got great get-off, he can bend and his closing speed is excellent on film, Indianapolis general manager Ryan Grigson said moments after taking Werner. He plays the game at a higher rate of speed.