Latest Team Rankings
Free Text Alerts
|ShopMobileRadio RSSRivals.com Yahoo! Sports|
|College Teams||High Schools|
August 15, 2008A career-threatening back problem and a challenging position switch now behind him, a golden opportunity now lies ahead for Jason Werner.
With Boilermaker coaches and teammates gushing in no uncertain terms over the junior outside linebacker's potential, he now ascends to a full-time starting position at weak-side linebacker.
"If he can stay healthy," Coach Joe Tiller said, "certainly in our short tenure here at Purdue, he will be as good as or better than any linebacker we've had."
That's a mouthful from a coach whose program has sent seven linebackers - Joe Odom, Niko Kououtvides, Gilbert Gardner, Landon Johnson, Stanford Keglar, Bobby Iwuchukwu and John Reeves - on to the NFL for varying lengths of time.
That would be pretty exclusive company for Werner to join should he fulfill his coach's hopes.
"It's a great opportunity and I've been waiting a long time for it," Werner said. "I just want to make sure I stay healthy. It's no real pressure. ... I'm just more excited than anything."
It has indeed been an arduous road to this point for the former Indiana Mr. Football winner.
Werner came to Purdue as a safety in 2005, but saw only a handful or so of special teams snaps. He moved to linebacker after the season, but redshirted the following year after a troublesome back problem left him not only wondering whether he'd ever play again, but also whether he even wanted to.
After finally overcoming the back issues - it's been so far, so good anyway - Werner struggled with the nuances of his new position.
But experience gained last season as Keglar's backup - Werner made 28 tackles as a defensive reserve and on special teams, with two tackles for loss and a sack - has benefited the speedy 6-foot-4 linebacker.
"I felt like it was the best thing possible," Werner said of playing as a second-teamer last season. "Coach Tiller says, 'Experience can do so many things.' The more reps I got, by the end of the season, I was finally reacting and not really thinking."
Tiller and Co. think it's that final step that's unlocked Werner's potential.
"Jason has all the skills to be very successful at the position," Tiller said. "He can run and accelerate; he's not just a one-speed guy. He's tough. He has good vision and good jumping skills. He's athletic. He'll hit you. He likes coming up with a big hit and he enjoys blitzing.
"I just think he has a lot going for him. The only thing that's a question mark has been his ability to stay healthy."
Defensive coordinator Brock Spack, Purdue's linebackers coach, thinks Werner could be an upgrade at his position.
"He's really fast and he's tough," Spack said. "That's what I like about him. We needed the toughness more than anything else. Our (weak-side) linebacker would run last year, but this guy is a little tougher, in my opinion."
Werner said his back feels fine and almost beams when talking about how he's gotten up to a solid 226 pounds.
"I feel perfect," he said. "I'm finally at a weight I want to be at and I can run still. It's hard to gain that weight and maintain your speed, but I feel really good.
"And I finally feel like a linebacker. Thank God."
Now, he's eager to live up to the expectations on him, expectations he also holds for himself.
"I'm very confident," Werner said. "All that time, I've worked hard. I feel like I'm ready to go out and show I can play."
For the best Purdue team and recruiting coverage out there, click here.
Copyright, Boilers, Inc. 2008. All Rights Reserved. Reproducing or using editorial or graphical content, in whole or in part, without permission, is strictly prohibited. E-mail GoldandBlack.com/Boilers, Inc.