Ravens defensive tackle Larry Webster has been reinstated by NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue for the 1997 season after a year's suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, and his return will bolster the depth at one of the team's strongest positions.
According to Webster's agent, Tony Paige, his client met with Tagliabue at a hearing last week, and Tagliabue cleared the former University of Maryland star to begin working out with the team Monday.
Webster, 6 feet 5 and 300 pounds, will have to honor the last year of his contract, which would have paid him $400,000 in base salary for the 1996 season.
"Thank God I've been cleared. It's a blessing; that's how I look at it," said Webster, 28, from his home in Elkton. "Now we'll wait to see how this all turns out on the field."
Webster tested positive for the third time during his five-year career last summer and was suspended by the league for a year on Aug. 20.
NFL and NFLPA policy prohibits the league from disclosing the substance, but Webster has said he was suspended because he tested positive after drinking alcohol at a bachelor party two days before he was to get married in late June.
Taglaibue's decision is based on a number of recommendations from doctors involved in the league's substance abuse program in conjunction with the NFLPA. If Webster tests positive again, he will be suspended for a minimum of another year, according to league spokesman Greg Aiello.
Paige said Webster will be tested by the league randomly three to four times a week.
"We're just real glad to have him back," said Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda. "At the end of last season, I told our team that it all started to go bad on defense when we first lost him. Then we got hurt by a lot of injuries."
Webster said he spent the year working for a contractor helping to retool portions of the General Motors plant. He said he is in decent shape and close to the team's preferred playing weight of 295 pounds.
Webster is listed as a second-string defensive tackle behind Tony Siragusa and James Jones, but will get a lot of playing time because of the physical toll associated with the position.
The defensive line was the Ravens' weakest and thinnest unit last season until the team signed free agents Siragusa and Michael McCrary during the off-season.
Webster was expected to start for the Ravens last season before he was suspended. He was a third-round draft pick by the Miami Dolphins in 1992.
"I hear he is in pretty good shape," said Marchibroda. "We'll rotate him as much as we can to keep our guys fresh. Guys like Peter Boulware, Michael McCrary and Rob Burnett, defensive ends and outside linebackers, will play almost every down. But with the physical nature of defensive tackles, it's nice to have fresh guys. We definitely have more ability at that position than a year ago."
Ravens defensive tackle Larry Webster has been suspended twice by the NFL for three violations of the league's substance-abuse policy.
Aug. 20, 1996: Suspended by the NFL for the 1996 season as a result of a third positive test during his career. Webster did not receive any of his $400,000 in base salary, but was paid bonuses totaling $400,000 for attending preseason camps. Webster later said he tested positive for drinking alcohol two days before he was married, a violation of the league's substance-abuse policy.
August 1995: Suspended for six games of the 1995 season after a second positive test, nearly three months after signing with the Cleveland Browns as a free agent. Webster said he had tested positive for marijuana use. He was not paid during his absence.
Webster's first violation came during his stay with the Miami Dolphins from 1992 to 1994. Initial positive tests are not disclosed by the league, but Webster later said he had tested positive for marijuana use.
Pub Date: 7/08/97