Rookie Webb's star is rising

Lardarius Webb could start at cornerback Sunday vs. Steelers

November 26, 2009|By Edward Lee | edward.lee@baltsun.com

As Lardarius Webb prepares for what might be his first career NFL start before a prime-time audience, the Ravens rookie cornerback feels as if he doesn't have to prove anything.

"It's not about me, man. I'm just out there trying to fill in a void. I just want to prove that we're a great defense and that we can play against the best."

That kind of humility has endeared Webb, a 23-year-old rookie from Opelika, Ala., to his teammates and coaches - all of whom insist that Webb won't be awed by the bright lights associated with playing against the reigning Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night.

"He's a football player, and I think that's what caught the eye of this organization when we first started evaluating him," secondary coach Chuck Pagano said. "This guy loves to play the game."

Even so, there's still some uncertainty about whether Webb - who has recorded 14 tackles (12 solo) and one sack - will start for Fabian Washington, who will miss the rest of the season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in Sunday's 17-15 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

Although Webb played primarily nickel back against the Colts and replaced Washington against the Cincinnati Bengals on Nov. 8 when Washington bruised his left thigh, head coach John Harbaugh stated Monday that Webb, Chris Carr and Frank Walker could play opposite starter Domonique Foxworth.

Pagano echoed that sentiment Wednesday, saying: "It'll be corner by committee. ... Frank started the AFC championship game for us and played even though he had a dislocated shoulder. Chris has played a lot of football and understands and isn't awed by any of this stuff. It's going to take a group effort to get this win."

Even Webb tried to deflect the media's attention. "I haven't been reported to be the starter," he said. "We have more corners, and we have to compete this week. So we're going to see who's going to come out on top. We've got a lot of work to put in."

Still, Webb's transition to the NFL has been an encouraging development to his coaches and his teammates. Selected in the third round of the NFL draft in April, Webb was used primarily as a safety at Nicholls State, a Football Championship Subdivision team.

So when he joined the Ravens, Webb, who was accustomed to roaming freely in the defensive backfield and at times taking risks, was indoctrinated on aspects such as press coverage and zone responsibilities.

"From that standpoint, from the first day he walked into this building until now, he's come miles as far as his fundamentals and technique," Pagano said. "Something as simple as backpedaling and breaking on things and preparation, he's starting to understand not only our defense, but also offensive schemes and how people are trying to attack him. He's doing a great job of not only evaluating the opponent, but he's also going in and evaluating himself each week."

Webb began the season buried on the team's depth chart, but by November, he had started to challenge Carr for playing time as the defense's nickel back. His appearance against the Bengals when Washington got injured further exemplified the coaches' faith in the young cornerback.

"I like some intangible things about him," Harbaugh said. "He's a competitive guy. He's got a lot to learn. Chuck does a great job with him every day. He's obviously a student of the game. I think he's more advanced than most rookie corners. He's very professional for this stage of his career. He's a bright guy. Then, you see the physical stuff, obviously."

If Webb does start Sunday against Pittsburgh, he could line up frequently against wide receiver Hines Ward, a physical player who enjoys throwing defensive players off their games.

Ward has already begun studying Webb.

"Just watching film on him, he likes to come up, and he's a great talent," Ward said. "He's flying around to the football and likes to play physical. He's a great, young talent. We definitely want to see if we can try to exploit that side of him, not having the experience."

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, however, pointed out that the Ravens could protect Webb by shading five-time Pro Bowl free safety Ed Reed to Webb's side of the field. Even if that's not the case, Tomlin said, his offense won't single out Webb.

Pagano wasn't buying it.

"I was with [current Pittsburgh offensive coordinator] Bruce Arians in Cleveland for a long time, and when a new corner came into the game because a guy got hurt and went down, Bruce is very, very good at what he does and very, very smart," Pagano said. "They usually go after that guy. So they're going to do what they do. We've got to stop the run first and foremost like you always have to do against Pittsburgh. They've got a great quarterback and a great receiving corps and a great tight end, and they're going to do what they do. It wouldn't shock him and it wouldn't shock me and it wouldn't shock anybody in this building if they go to his side more than the other."

Webb said he fully expects Ward and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to target him. But that's about all he would concede to as far as expectations go.

"You all are asking me questions like I've been out there before," Webb said. "I don't know what to expect. I just know that this is a very important game for the ball club. So we're going to go prepare this week and be prepared on Sunday."

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