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Transitioning From The Line To The Edge

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The Colts edge rushers are standing up and stepping back from the line for Pagano. Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images.
The Colts edge rushers are standing up and stepping back from the line for Pagano. Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images.

Colts blogger Trent Stutzman is doing a series looking at each positional unit on the Colts roster, with the exception of quarterback. Today’s piece focuses on the outside linebackers.

Notable players: Robert Mathis, Bjoern Werner, Erik Walden

The magic word concerning the 2013 Colts outside linebackers will be transition. It’s happening everywhere within this crucial position for the defense.

First of all, there’s the transition for a lot of newcomers. The only real outside linebackers returning from last year’s squad are Robert Mathis and Justin Hickman. This offseason, the Colts drafted Bjoern Werner in the first round of the NFL Draft and signed free agents Erik Walden and Lawrence Sidbury. Whether they’ve played outside linebacker before or not, none of the newcomers have been in Chuck Pagano’s system. It takes a little time to get used to any new system.

Of course, the much more difficult transition will face those going from defensive end to outside linebacker. The only guy who’s used to playing standing up instead of in a three-point stance is Walden. The veteran Mathis didn’t transition so smoothly last year after playing his first nine seasons as a defensive end. He still has some work to do to become the force he was prior to 2012. Hickman also was a first-year outside linebacker last season after spending his time in college and the CFL as an end. Sidbury was a defensive end in Atlanta for four years before signing with the Colts this offseason.

And, of course, there’s the rookie with high expectations, Werner, which brings up the next transition – developing the next featured pass-rusher for the Colts. Werner also has built his reputation as being a fierce pass-rusher with his hand on the ground. He played standing up a little bit in college, but not enough to expect results right away. Still, many reports coming out of the Colts offseason camps are that Werner is picking up the new system rather quickly. This is probably most due to the fact that power pass-rushing almost always translates to the NFL, which Werner has. The parts that will take some time getting used to are finesse moves and pass coverage. Trying to live up to the legacy Mathis and Dwight Freeney have built over the past decade surely is daunting, but Werner has the tools to eventually do that. It’s just going to take a little bit of time. For now, he’ll be a great pass-rushing specialist on obvious passing situations.

 Finally, the transition of brining in the new face of the defense includes the transition of moving away from the old guys. The Colts have already rid themselves of Freeney, who struggled to play outside linebacker more than Mathis did. Mathis still has three years remaining on his contract, but I doubt he will stay around after that. He’s already 32 and wasn’t as effective last season as an outside linebacker compared to his defensive end days. He’ll surely be more adjusted to his new role this year, but how much will his aging cancel that out? That will be the key in determining how much longer Mathis plays at a high level and stays in Indianapolis. Each offseason, he’ll get better and more comfortable as an outside linebacker, but will slide athletically as he gets older and older. Eventually the latter will win out, but I’m confident Mathis is a hard enough worker to make the former more favorable for at least a season or two.