Revived Webster stands tall in key stand-in performance Backup tackle anchors line in place of injured Siragusa

September 22, 1997|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- While he pondered his future during the suspension that cost him the entire 1996 season, Ravens defensive tackle Larry Webster dreamed about a day like this.

The resuscitation of Webster's five-year NFL career continued with its brightest sign in yesterday's 36-10 pounding of the Tennessee Oilers.

Originally expecting to spell Tony Siragusa as usual from his backup position, Webster saw his role change dramatically on the game's first series. After Siragusa scooped up Steve McNair's fumble and started rumbling toward the end zone, Tennessee's Brad Hopkins sent Siragusa tumbling to the grass with a hard tackle.

As Siragusa writhed in pain with a strained ankle tendon that knocked him out of action, Webster's time had come. And the 6-foot-5, 288-pound former Maryland star answered the call like the rejuvenated player he has felt like since reporting to training camp in July.

Webster simply lined up and became a Siragusa-like anchor, gamely battling Oilers center Mark Stepnoski and left guard Bruce Matthews for nearly four quarters.

Webster teamed with left tackle James Jones to contain Oilers running back Eddie George inside. He applied a consistent inside pass rush that kept the pocket sealed against quarterback Steve McNair. He finished with four tackles -- three solo -- and won the admiration of his linemates.

"I thank God for the opportunity I was given today. Unfortunately, it happened under some tough circumstances," Webster said. "I was sorry to see Goose go down. I don't want to see that happen to any teammate. I was just doing what I'm supposed to do, giving my all. I was called upon, and I did my job.

"Stepnoski is a great player, a Pro Bowler. Matthews is a Pro Bowler. That's a lot of veteran experience. I just had to be sound with my technique. If I do that, I feel like I can hang in there with the best of them."

Webster made his presence felt immediately. Upon entering the game with the Ravens on top 3-0, he dropped George for no gain on a first-down play. On the next play, a 3-yard pass completion to George, Webster made the tackle.

At that point, Webster said, he was playing on sheer electricity, consumed by the excitement of the moment.

"I finally calmed myself down near the end of the first half. In the second half, I was more relaxed and just having fun," said Webster, who hurried McNair several times in the second half, nearly sacking him once.

"Webster was great. He made a name for himself today," said Ravens right defensive end Michael McCrary. "He was real fired up at first. He was a little nervous because he didn't want to make any mental mistakes.

"But I was the one who was a little messed up in the head. He actually calmed me down, and he even corrected me on a play, which I'm not used to."

All Webster was asking for at this time last year was one more chance. Before last year's training camp, Webster violated the NFL's substance-abuse policy for the third time, for which he was hit with a one-year suspension.

Upon reporting to camp this year, the signs concerning Webster were positive. He was about 15 pounds lighter than last year. His conditioning had improved remarkably. He had a subdued, businesslike attitude.

"He's my man. I love the guy," said left defensive end Rob Burnett. "I love him as a person and as a player. What he did today is what it's all about. The Goose went down, and we had a guy ready to step up."

Even in the Memphis humidity late in the fourth quarter, even after being on the field for an unusually high number of plays, Webster said he never felt tired.

"I'm in the best shape I've ever been in during my five years in the league," he said. "You can't worry about getting tired. You just worry about getting to the quarterback or making the next play."

With Siragusa questionable for next week's game in San Diego, the Ravens will be counting heavily on Webster again.

Pub Date: 9/22/97

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