Robert Mathis is caught in an interesting predicament.
The veteran outside linebacker finds himself preparing as hard as he can to play a football season that he will watch for the first month on television. That’s the result of a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy, and it means fans will see less of the league’s reigning sack champion on the practice field.
“We’ve got to prepare for reality,” head coach Chuck Pagano said Friday at Anderson University during the Indianapolis Colts’ second practice day of training camp. “Reality is we’re not going to have Robert for the first four weeks. So we’ve got to get the other guys ready to go. At the same time, we can’t let Robert sit around for four weeks because then it turns into essentially what would be an eight-week suspension if we did that.”
The solution? Give second-year pass rusher Bjoern Werner the “lion’s share” of reps with the first unit and find ways to work Mathis in wherever possible.
It’s not an ideal plan — especially considering the team also needs to find reps for young linebackers like Cam Johnson, Aaron Morgan and Daniel Adongo — but Mathis believes it can work.
“Yeah,” he said, “just when my number is called, I’ll be ready.”
The news hasn’t been all bad for the 33-year-old this summer. Last week, he and his wife welcomed a baby girl — Brielle Emma-Rose — into the family.
Mathis blamed a fertility drug used in the conception for the positive test that resulted in his suspension. But he’s putting that all behind him, especially when he holds his daughter.
“She’s the apple of my eye,” he said, breaking into a broad smile in an interview tent. “I don’t think I could love anything more than being a father. Well, except being a husband. But I’m very happy, (she’s) very beautiful and I’m just a happy father.”
As for adjusting to his new role on the field, Mathis is taking it in stride.
The reasons for his increased rest might have changed, but the result is similar to the routine he’s become familiar with since Pagano took charge of the team in 2012.
“Kind of, as an older guy, not that much different,” he said. “I get limited reps because I’m an older guy, the younger guys get more reps, and that’s pretty much the status quo.”
Werner has used the increased time on the field to turn a few heads early in training camp.
He knocked down an Andrew Luck pass in the middle of the field Friday, adding to an impressive resume in pass defense. On Thursday, he intercepted a pass from Luck and lateraled to inside lineback D’Qwell Jackson for a touchdown. Later in the session, he leapt to bat a pass thrown by Matt Hasselbeck, and the ball ricocheted into the arms of defensive end Cory Redding.
Werner has been praised for staying around the Colts’ headquarters during the offseason and working on his mind and body. And Mathis already has seen positive results.
“He’s going to shine,” Mathis said. “He’s doing good. He’s getting at the ball, knows his assignments and playing some good football right now.”
Mathis meanwhile remains in limbo, waiting for Indianapolis’ season to begin without him.
There’s no question the veteran wants to be on the field with his teammates as soon as possible, but he promises the long September ahead isn’t causing him many sleepless nights.
“No,” Mathis said. “I kiss my baby and wait for my turn.”