After playing an array of positions in 2019, Pete Werner is making the move to the inside.
Werner — who primarily played strong side linebacker last season — is moving to the weak side spot in a change that will allow him to be more involved in the run game and highlight his versatility. Although Werner hasn’t played extensively on the inside in his college career, he said he’s excited for the opportunity.
“It’s weird playing in the box, I haven’t really done that since my high school days, but it is a good feeling,” Werner said. “I feel like I have the opportunity to make a little bit more plays but it’s just an opportunity to show more of my versatility and I think I’ve done a great job transitioning.”
Werner moved around the defense in 2019, getting looks at both outside and inside linebacker as well as in the secondary at safety. However, Werner received most of his snaps at the strong side linebacker position.
Following a season in which Werner collected 39 solo tackles and 5.5 tackles-for-loss, he said he was surprised by the move inside.
“I was surprised because I thought that as well as I played in 2019, I would’ve improved and strived a little bit more going into next year,” Werner said. “I think they thought it would favor our defense a little bit more.”
Although the move was unanticipated by Werner, he said that it will help him be more of a leader due to the magnitude and location of the position.
“I just know that switching to this position the coaches saw something when doing it,” Werner said. “I think because of my leadership role and communication skills, I think you need that more inside the box than you do outside and they saw that as a benefit.”
With the change, Werner said that taking care of the little things matter more on the weak side than they did on the strong side.
Werner said that neglecting these details could result in big plays for the opposing offenses.
“The little things matter at this position. One wrong footwork, one wrong step, it results in you being behind the play,” Werner said. “If your eyes aren’t in the right spot, it’s gonna be a big play.”
With this newfound attention to the smaller aspects of the position, Werner said that the transition has not been difficult due to his experience around the game.
“Because I know a lot about football and I’ve been around the game for a long time, the switch has come very natural,” Werner said. “As far as transition, I think it’s kinda second nature, but there are minor things that I need to work on.”
Despite Werner getting more reps on the inside at practice, linebackers coach Al Washington said that they will continue to move Werner around the defense depending on the defensive package.
With the increased focus on his inside play, Werner will essentially be switching spots with graduate linebacker Baron Browning in the second level.
Browning said that the swap has not changed much in terms of the unit’s effectiveness and that it shows both his and Werner’s range as defenders.
“I really don’t think it makes too much of a change,” Browning said. “I feel like it allows him to show that he can play inside the box, not on the outside. I feel like it allows me to show that I can play on the outside rather than the inside. So, I feel like it’s kinda helping both of us.”
Joining Werner on the inside is graduate linebacker Tuf Borland, who said that Werner’s experience will bring a different aspect to the position.
“He’s extremely versatile, extremely athletic,” Borland said. “He has a lot of experience, so you’re going to have that veteran, savvy type of linebacker.”
While Werner gets used to his new spot in the defense, Washington said that he’s confident in Werner’s abilities and that he will make an impact this season.
“Pete’s doing a real good job at the Will (weak side) position,” Washington said. “He’s a physical player. He’s athletic, obviously. He’s very bright and passionate. I think he has a chance to make an impact.”