By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
Bjoern Werner has been collecting nicknames for years.
Think of a play on his unusual first name, and he’s heard it.
Bjoern to be Wild. Bjoern Free. Bjoern to Rush.
Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee, one of the German native’s new teammates, offered “The Bjoern Supremacy” on his popular Twitter account.
And Werner said every player of note who comes out of his country inevitably gets tagged as the Germanator.
The good-natured outside linebacker, taken with the 24th overall pick in Thursday’s first round of the NFL draft, laughs them all off. He would, however, like everyone to know how to correctly pronounce his real name.
For the record, it’s Bee-yorn Verr-ner. But few Americans get it right.
“Here’s a quick story right here,” Werner said during his inaugural meeting with the local media Friday at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center. “The second year at Florida State I was a starter and they call your name in the stadium, and the guy asked me before, ‘How do you pronounce your name?’
“And I told him exactly how to pronounce it, and I get out there and he pronounced my name totally wrong. He messed it up so bad that I was like, ‘Just go back to the English version, this makes no sense.’ So I’d rather stick with the English one if nobody can say it.”
All of Indiana will learn to pronounce Werner’s name if he lives up to some rather lofty expectations.
The 6-foot-3, 266-pounder ostensibly is the replacement for Colts all-time sacks leader Dwight Freeney. And he’ll likely be ticketed eventually for the same spot in head coach Chuck Pagano’s hybrid 3-4 scheme that Terrell Suggs plays in Baltimore.
Like Werner, Suggs ran a 40-yard dash in the 4.8-second range during the NFL Scouting Combine. And like the Indianapolis brain trust did Thursday night, the Ravens’ decision makers in 2003 pointed to the player’s production on the field as overwhelming evidence he was worth the pick.
Werner is unlikely to wilt under the expectations. He said he had no favorite players growing up, no sports posters on his walls. After he came to the U.S. as a high school sophomore, Werner watched as many as five games each Sunday and picked up whatever he could from the best defensive ends in the game.
The result is a style that makes Werner appear something like a jack-of-all-trades.
“He is one of those guys that does everything well but nothing great,” NFL Network’s Mike Mayock said on the air Thursday night. “He will thrive in head coach Chuck Pagano’s system.”
The latter statement has been the topic of some debate.
There are those who believe Werner is ill-suited to stand up as a linebacker and drop back into coverage. He played primarily as a 4-3 defensive end at Florida State and made a name for himself with sacks and batted passes.
But Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson made a personal trip to Tallahassee, Fla., to work out Werner. And they came away convinced he has the athleticism to do everything that will be asked of him in Indianapolis.
“He’s got some special traits,” Pagano said. “He’s got a high motor. He’s big. He’s strong. He’s got a great get off. He’s been rushing the passer for a long time down at Florida State. You know how they like to put those guys on the edge.
“First and second down, again, he’s going to be an edge setter for us and play the run game for us. But on third down there’s a multitude of things we can do with this guy. The simplest is line him up opposite of Robert
and tell him, ‘Sick ’em. Go get the quarterback.’”
Werner was drawn to the physicality of the game.
He began playing flag football as a 12-year-old near Berlin and watched the older kids play the tackle version of the game. Werner was amazed tackling was allowed in this sport, unlike the nation’s favored game of soccer.
Unable to play football for real, Werner dove into the Madden video game series. Two of his favorite in-game avatars where Mathis and Freeney.
Now he finds himself replacing one and, hopefully, learning from the other.
“Now I can ask Robert Mathis questions. That’s crazy,” Werner said. “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. It’s just amazing to be in the same room as him, and I just can’t wait to meet him and tell him that (Madden) story, too. I respect him so much, and it’s just an awesome time right now.”
Werner had an idea he might be on the Colts’ radar. His defensive line coach at Florida State told him he was hearing good things from the organization, and he came up to Werner’s shoulder when Indianapolis went on the clock and predicted the defensive star’s time was now.
From the time commissioner Roger Goodell called his name Thursday night through his arrival Friday in his new hometown, a smile seemed permanently affixed to Werner’s face.
“I woke up this morning and it was still so unbelievable just that I can say that I’m a Colt,” he said. “It’s just such a great organization. I watched last season, every Sunday. What they’ve been through and going to the playoffs was just so inspiring, and I can say that I’m going to be a part of this.
“I’m so excited. I think it’ll take awhile for it to sink in, but hopefully I’ll get over it because I have to get ready and try to prove that I’m worth that pick.”