Webster, Jones defense's unsung heroes Two tackles don't get a lot of publicity, but have anchored unit's revival

Ravens notebook

December 19, 1997|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

The strength of the Ravens' defense this season has been its defensive line, but sometimes little has been heard about two of the unit's top players, defensive tackles Larry Webster and James Jones.

Neither have the flamboyance of defensive tackle Tony Siragusa or the sacks of end Michael McCrary. They just practice and play hard every day and every Sunday.

The 6-foot-5, 288-pound Webster, out of the University of Maryland, is one of the team's better success stories this season. He missed all of last season for violating the NFL's policy on substance and alcohol abuse.

But whenever Siragusa has gone down with an injury this season, Webster has stepped up to play well, including last Sunday when Siragusa didn't play because of a fractured finger on his right hand.

Webster started and finished with five tackles in the Ravens' 21-19 win over the Tennessee Oilers, despite playing with an assortment of injuries.

"I thought this was Larry's best football game, he showed a tremendous amount of hustle, he was making tackles downfield, showed aggressiveness and played very well at the point of attack," said coach Ted Marchibroda.

At 28, Webster might be near the top of his game.

"As the year has progressed, I think I have gotten better," said Webster, an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. "Whenever I have gotten the opportunity, I think I have played pretty well."

"I'd like to be a part of this team next season," said Webster, who is from Elkton. "I'm from Maryland, I like the organization and the players and I've got two great teachers in Goose and J. J. [James Jones].

Said Siragusa: "Larry is an inside guy and you can put him in at any time. If they don't get him back, it would be a mistake. You can't find that kind of experience everywhere."

Jones may be the team's unsung hero. He is fifth on the team in tackles with 63 and doesn't miss practice or game time. He is like a coach on the field, knowing all the defensive line assignments, even some of the linebackers'.

"Everything about J. J. points to leadership," said defensive end Keith Washington. "That's what you need out there on the field. He has a good feel for the game and always gets the younger guys in position to make plays."

Waiting game

Ravens rookie and No. 3 quarterback Wally Richardson has heard the rumors about the Ravens acquiring Jim Kelly or Jim Harbaugh.

So, where does that leave Richardson, and what does he think?

One thing for sure, Richardson, out of Penn State, learns quickly.

"Almost anything can happen in this league," said Richardson. "In the last two years, there have been a lot of quarterbacks getting hurt and that means you've got to be ready, step in, step up and do the job."

"What will happen with me next year is something I think about, but nothing I dwell on," said Richardson. "That's a decision that ,, is going to be made, one that is out of my control. I'm just going to do what I'm supposed to be doing so that when my opportunity comes, I'll make the best of it."

Heavy load

This season was expected to be an experiment for Jermaine Lewis. The Ravens wanted to put him in the slot position, a position he had never played before. The Ravens also wanted him to return punts and kicks.

Lewis has suffered through a number of leg injuries this season that forced him to miss five starts, but he is still fifth in the league in combined yards with 1,884. The leader is Detroit's Barry Sanders wih 2,164.

"I knew I could play in the slot," said Lewis. "But I know I can still improve, especially in my receiving. Last year after the season I took home a lot of film and studied my returns. This time I take home the film and study my patterns."

Lewis is not sure a player can double as a starting wide receiver and return specialist.

"I don't know, but it's sure harder doing it when you're hurt," he said. "It's been a rough 16 games."

Langham's revival

Antonio Langham has become a marked man again this season.

When Langham was struggling in the early part of last season, teams threw on him almost weekly. But this year Langham has played well. He is eighth on the team in tackles with 50 and has knocked down 13 passes, tops on the team.

He also has a new role, sometimes covering the other teams' top receivers.

"I'm not really used to playing the right side and sometimes it feels a little different to line up on that side," said Langham. "I remember we did this once last year against Denver and I thought I did a nice job against Denver's Anthony Miller. Whenever we've played that way this year, I think I have done a pretty good job."

It's a weapon Langham might use during the negotiations with the team in the off-season. Langham will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year.

"We ought to be able to use that a little bit," said Langham, laughing, then adding a wink.

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