ANDERSON, IND --- The Colts franchise record holder for sacks has begun training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform list, and his coaches are exercising patience for bringing Robert Mathis back to the field from a torn Achilles last September.
For now, he's week-to-week. He can come off the PUP list at any point. It's more of a matter of nomenclature at this point than anything with putting him on that list in training camp. In reality, there's plenty of time to get Mathis back on the field with a roster full of talented pass rushers. He's the ace in the hole.
"Yes. I think we would be foolish not to consider all those things that you just talked about," said Head Coach Chuck Pagano Sunday, when asked about easing Mathis back, considering the type of injury, age (Mathis is 34), and depth at his position. "Just like (running back) Vick (Ballard, who also had a ruptured Achilles last year), it would be stupid on our part just to say, 'Okay, hey you're healthy, you've been cleared.' Throw him to the wolves and to expect him to go out there and perform and take the reps that a healthy 22 year old would take that's been through no circumstances and hasn't had a season-ending injury."
Mathis expressed at the end of the offseason program his goal was to play week 1 at Buffalo.
"We have to be very, very smart with Robert. He knows that and we are all on the same page," said Pagano. "You guys are chomping at the bit, he's chomping at the bit, we are chomping at the bit, position coach is chomping at the bit and it's like slow down. We have a long way to go. It's a long season."
Simply put, when Mathis comes back, his coaches want him to have the best chance to be the Mathis of old.
"I think discussions with the training staff, head coach, GM and even with us as the coaches just to figure out what's the best timing for him and when he's going to be 100 percent, not 85 percent, not 90 percent," said Defensive Coordinator Greg Manusky Saturday.
So what will the Colts defense do when Robert Mathis returns to a unit that already has Trent Cole, Erik Walden, Jonathan Newsome, and Bjoern Werner?
"That's the big question. It's a good problem to have," said Manusky. "In years past when we've been here, we haven't had that problem. Training camp will take care of itself. The players will respond and have their highs and lows."
The value of Mathis also extends well beyond his 111 career sacks, 19.5 of which he gathered in 2013 to lead the NFL.
"His leadership is a big thing. Even when he was hurt, he was still around with his leadership and letting us know what different things were going on," said inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman. "His play speaks for itself. Once we get a guy like that back on the field, we're going to be pretty exciting."
For now, the wait for #98 continues.