The Indianapolis Colts have been trying to find their next pass rushing stud for years, but a rest first rounder now says he wasn’t a good fit for their scheme.
Back in 2013, the Colts spent their first round draft pick on Florida State defensive end Bjoern Werner. The hope was that he’d translate to a 3-4 pass rushing outside linebacker (or EDGE rusher) and be the team’s next “Robert Mathis.”
After his rookie year, Werner was thrust into the starting role in 2014 as Mathis tore his Achilles tendon and was lost for the season. Werner struggled all year long, finishing with just four sacks and was a scratch in the playoffs.
The Colts cut Werner this offseason, cementing his status as a first round draft bust for the Colts. The Jaguars recently picked him up and are giving him a chance to move back to his natural position, defensive end. In an interview with the team, Werner spoke about making this shift and not fitting with the Colts scheme.
"Q: You mentioned being a defensive end … that’s a big deal – to be able to play with your hand on the ground again?A: That’s what I had done my whole career, basically. Now, I can focus on pass rush. That’s what you get judged in the league – production. That was a big part of why I was released with the Colts.Q: And you didn’t get the chance to focus on pass rush with the Colts?A: In a 3-4 system, you have to focus more on setting the edge, dropping, pass combos … you lose sight of the pass rush, but because it’s the NFL they want to see numbers. I’m the type of guy who needs to train and work on fundamentals in the pass-rush part of the game to produce on the field.Q: There’s a perception that 4-3 end – which you’ll play with the Jaguars – is the same position as the 3-4 linebacker you played in Indianapolis. But that’s not the case, as you see it …A: (…) My time with the Indianapolis Colts made me an all-around better player when it comes to dropping and when it comes to understanding the defense, but at the end of the day the fun in the game for me is getting after the quarterback. This is why I was drafted with the Colts, but I was turned into a linebacker and I had to learn a lot about coverage and setting the edge. (…)"
The pick never really made sense in the first place. The Colts took a defensive end from a 4-3 scheme, who had never played linebacker, and switched him to a 3-4 outside linebacker. Couple that with the fact that the German-born Werner had only been playing football for a short time, and it was always going to be an uphill struggle for him to turn into the player they were hoping for.
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Mathis was able to make the switch from defensive end to outside linebacker in 2012 partly because he’s a freak athlete but also because he played OLB in college. The switch isn’t always and easy one to make, and finding players who fit the 3-4 scheme can be difficult.
Back in 2014, we looked at why Werner was struggling in his starting role as a pass rusher. We noted then that he seemed to lack any of the pass rushing moves you’d typically want from this kind of player. He didn’t seem to know how to beat a blocker, lacked closing speed, and seemed to give up too easily.
The Colts draft history under GM Ryan Grigson is littered with failed picks. The team has a massive problem at pass rush that they have been unable to address through the draft. In fairness, 2016’s class wasn’t exactly full of talent, but the team must find someone in the near future (and next year’s draft could be loaded with EDGE rushers).
Werner’s failure to develop is an indictment on the coaching staff as they were unable to turn him into a competent pass rusher. The Colts issues can only be masked by great QB play for so long, as we saw last year. Werner will go down as another failed move for Grigson and the Colts.