By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
As a youngster growing up in Germany, Bjoern Werner woke up every Monday morning at 6 a.m. to download highlights from NFL.com before school.
The only method to watch live games in Germany is by paying for a feed from ESPN America, and Werner’s family couldn’t afford it. Now that he’s a first-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts, Werner hopes to hook up his parents — who have never seen him play football in America — with the service.
His NFL journey — and those of the Colts’ six other draft picks and 10 undrafted free agents — begins today at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center with the start of a three-day rookie mini-camp.
Werner will be among the most watched players at the camp. He’s making the transition from 4-3 defensive end at Florida State to 3-4 outside linebacker in Indianapolis, and he’s the heir apparent to fan favorite Dwight Freeney — who was not re-signed when his contract expired in March.
“I’ve been telling all of these coaches that I can’t promise you I’m going to be the best pass rusher ever or the best outside linebacker, but I can promise you that I’m going to come in and work hard and be really coachable, and I’m going to try to be the best one,” Werner said last month in his first appearance at the team’s practice facility after being selected with the 24th overall pick. “I’m just so blessed that I can be here and just play for this team.”
Werner will have plenty of company during a mini-camp that also is expected to include several unsigned rookies competing on a tryout basis.
The Colts already are at the 90-man limit for their offseason roster, counting outside linebacker Josh McNary who is stashed away on the reserve-military list and expected to be activated by the end of May. So the tryout players will need to work hard to catch a coach’s eye and convince the team to replace somebody already under contract.
The difficulty of that task was underscored Thursday when Indianapolis announced it has traded reserve center A.Q. Shipley to the Baltimore Ravens for a conditional draft pick.
The Colts drafted guard Hugh Thornton of Illinois in the third round and guard/center Khaled Holmes of Southern Cal in the fourth. Along with free agent guard Donald Thomas and right tackle Gosder Cherilus, they have created a logjam of competition along a remodeled offensive line.
Indianapolis played just four games with the five original players it expected to start on the offensive line last season. So adding depth and versatility was a key offseason chore.
“If you have a guy that has just one position value, he not only has to be great at that position, but if we get in a jam we can’t put him anywhere else,” general manager Ryan Grigson said on the final day of the draft. “So it’s just good common sense to have guys that have versatility.”
That philosophy extends to the defensive line, where free agents Aubrayo Franklin and Ricky Jean Francois were imported to add bulk and experience and Tennessee-Martin defensive tackle Montori Hughes was drafted.
Grigson traded a 2014 draft pick to the Cleveland Browns to move into the fifth round and select Hughes, a 6-foot-4, 340-pounder who “can move like a cat.”
“His film spoke for itself,” Grigson said. “Every draft, every year since I’ve been doing this, you find very small handfuls of men and athletes that are this big and can bend and accelerate and decelerate and move laterally like this guy can.”
The Colts also took Oregon safety John Boyett in the sixth round and Utah State running back Kerwynn Williams and South Carolina tight end Justice Cunningham in the seventh.
“We got a group of guys coming in here that are Colts,” head coach Chuck Pagano said. “They’re Colts through and through, and they can’t wait to get here and get rolling, and we can’t wait to get them in here to get rolling.”