Webb accelerates his learning process

Second-year player has struggled at times this season, but his goal is to 'be the Baltimore Ravens' No. 1 corner'

November 14, 2010|By Edward Lee, The Baltimore Sun

The education of Lardarius Webb continues at a frenetic, unrelenting pace.

After showing flashes of promise in his rookie season last year before tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee Dec. 20, the Ravens cornerback has returned to reality this season.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady targeted Webb on several occasions Oct. 17, and Webb's aggressiveness in coverage has at times left him vulnerable to double moves. His most recent outing, the Ravens' 26-21 loss to Atlanta that came down to the last minute Thursday night, was especially humbling as he was benched briefly after getting beaten by wide receiver Roddy White three times on the Falcons' opening drive and lost a fumble on a punt return.

Webb, 25, wasn't happy with his performance, but he pointed out beforehand that he is still developing into an NFL-caliber cornerback.

"Like I said, this is my second year," he said. "I'm still learning my position, I'm still learning all the small things and I'm still learning from the guys in front of me."

Maybe it's youthful optimism or extreme self-confidence, but the man who wears the No.21 jersey that many Ravens fans associate with former shutdown cornerback Chris McAlister has vowed to live up to similar expectations.

"That's not pressure," Webb said of his quest to become the team's top cornerback. "That's what I want. I go out every day in practice and try to prove that I want to be here and that I want to be a starting corner. The guys in front of me are doing a hell of a job. … I want to be that guy one day, and I am still working every day to be that guy. I'm not taking one day off. I want to be that guy. I'm telling you now that I want to be the Baltimore Ravens' No. 1 corner, and I'm going to work my butt off to get there. But right now, I'm not there."

A third-round selection out of Football Championship Subdivision program Nicholls State in 2009, Webb highlighted his rookie season with a 95-yard kick return for a touchdown in the team's 30-7 rout of the Denver Broncos on Nov. 1.

After fellow cornerback Fabian Washington tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in a 17-15 loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Nov. 22, Webb was inserted into the starting lineup. In four starts, he made 16 tackles and broke up five passes, including a season-high three against the AFC North rival Pittsburgh Steelers in a 20-17 win Nov. 29.

Webb's season, however, ended against the Chicago Bears on Dec. 20, when he tore the ACL in his right knee while blocking during a punt return. Webb spent the offseason and preseason rehabilitating and working on his own at the team's facility in Owings Mills to return.

"It was real tough because it was my first year in the NFL, and I had just established a starting position, and to lose it all on one play -- and it wasn't even a defensive play, it was a special teams play -- it was real hard on me," he recalled. "I was thinking, 'How did I get hurt in my first year in the NFL?' But with the older guys around me and guys that have been through that, they kept my head up. They knew I was young, and they stayed with me."

Despite Webb's initial frustration, fellow cornerback Chris Carr said Webb's attitude toward football didn't change.

"He's still willing to learn and willing to get better," Carr said. "He still goes out to practice with a childhood enthusiasm about the game. He really likes going out there every day, and you can tell that he really loves playing football. Most guys like it, but you can't say that everybody truly loves playing football, but he does. You can see that, and that's always encouraging, and it's fun to see, too."

Webb did not return in time to play in the season-opening 10-9 win over the New York Jets, but he has played in the past eight contests. And even though he backs up starters Carr, Washington and -- against Atlanta -- Josh Wilson, Webb ranks seventh among the Ravens in solo tackles with 21.

Webb's comeback was anchored by his performance against the Steelers on Oct. 3, when he raced side by side with speedy wide receiver Mike Wallace and kept him from catching a long pass in the end zone.

Two weeks later, Brady targeted Webb, beating him for a 5-yard touchdown pass to Deion Branch in the fourth quarter. And on Thursday night, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and White connected several times at Webb's expense, leading the coaches to pull him in favor of Washington.

Webb said he understands why quarterbacks would attack him.

"They're going to target me," he said. "Everybody's going to target me. I'm the youngest guy. This is my second year. I'm not a rookie, but this is my second year, and they're going to target the youngest guy. But they will stop."

Webb's aggressive play in coverage has been the subject of newspaper columns and posts on Internet message boards, but secondary coach Chuck Pagano said he hasn't tried to curb Webb's enthusiasm.

"It's eye discipline, staying with your man," Pagano said. "Those are the little things. Sometimes you've got to stumble a few times to learn. You hate to do it that way at that position because there's no one behind us. If they get behind us, it's all over. But I think those are the things that, with time, he will see it and avoid making the same mistake again."

Webb has been doing a lot of studying in-season. Even his days off are spent getting treatment, working out and watching game film. To Webb, it's all part of his development with the Ravens.

"I'm still learning," he said. "I'm still on a progression, but I'm moving a little faster than some of the other guys. So they expect me not to play like a second-year player. They expect me to play like I've been here, like I've done it. I just want to be the best, so I go at it every day."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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