Ravens cornerback Webb is all the way back from ACL injury

December 23, 2010|Mike Preston

Last Sunday against the New Orleans saints, Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb was looking for secondary coach Chuck Pagano on the sideline. Webb was pointing to his thigh and wanted to be replaced.

He never got Pagano's attention.

"He was trying to tell me he had a bruised thigh," said Pagano. "He weighs what, 175 pounds? He doesn't even have a thigh to bruise. He's a small guy who tackles and throws his stuff around better than anyone. They're all aggressive, but he is one tough son of a gun."

It's pretty much official now.

Webb, the Ravens' second-year cornerback, is back. He returned to the field nearly 14 weeks ago after recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament last season, but that wasn't the real Webb.

You know Webb is completely recovered by the way he plays the run. He might be small, but he provides run support without any fear. In the past two weeks, Webb has been daring enough to make several tackles on runners at or behind the line of scrimmage.

Webb could always run. Any questions about his comeback centered around his confidence.

"He has always been fearless," said Pagano. "In college, if he didn't knock a receiver out, he knocked himself out. He was a safety then, and played tough like that in the alley. He has regained his confidence back, and he is playing where he left off last season. The ceiling is very high for him. Lardarius hasn't even scratched the surface yet."

Webb was an instant hit with the Ravens. Only a few days into training camp last season, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison was eyeing him as the future shutdown cornerback.

He was fast enough to run stride for stride with any receiver, and could add 10 to 12 pounds of muscle to his body frame. Webb played in 14 games and started four, but he tore his ACL in Week 15 on Dec. 20.

"God helped me through that time, helped keep my faith strong," said Webb. "The guys in this locker room, my teammates, were the second biggest thing to help me through. They kept me pumped up, they kept me involved. I just wanted to get back, that's where my whole focus was. I thought once I got back, my game would be where it was when I left off my rookie season."

He was wrong. And so were some of the fans who thought Webb would contribute right away. While rehabilitating, Webb did all the right things. He attended the off season minicamps. He went to all the meetings. He never missed a workout session with the trainers.

But there is a major difference between what you're seeing on the chalk board, and then carrying it out. There is also the accumulation of rust from not playing.

When Webb returned, his mind was full speed ahead, but his body wasn't.

"When you miss the whole offseason, the [Organized Team Activities], the walk-through sessions leading up to the OTA, you are limited because you're spending so much time with the trainer," said Pagano. "Everybody learns differently. Some can go in a classroom, pull it off chalkboard or the video and know exactly what to do. Others have to physically walk through it, see it happen and then physically cover the routes.

"When you haven't played or not been involved in making the calls or going through the communication process, it's hard. For a rookie like Lardarius, it's basically starting over again. Even as a coach in the offseason, when you put your playbook down for a while, when you come back, it looks like Chinese arithmetic."

You could see it in Webb's play. Calling him overanxious would be an overstatement. In the first meeting with the Pittsburgh Steelers, he got burned several times but had enough makeup speed to recover.

But it was only a matter time before he got suckered on pump fakes and double moves.

"I was too aggressive. I was just trying to get back and used to the game," said Webb. "I haven't played that long, was coming back from a major injury and still playing the toughest position to learn how to play in the NFL."

Pagano said: "Instead of playing the game, he let the game play him."

The adjustment, period, though, is over. Webb is back. He is running stride for stride with receivers again. In the future, he'll be matching up with the other team's top receiver.

"Most corners come back and play safety, but there aren't too many safeties that come back and play corner," said Webb. "I'm not playing as well as some think I am. The defensive line has played great the last three weeks. They have been getting pressure making my job easier."

Webb is just being modest.

"He has made some plays and that has helped his confidence," said Pagano. "He has a better understanding, getting more communication and is more comfortable. He is a playmaker who has great ball skills. There aren't many guys who can go stride for stride down the field and make plays like he does without fouling a guy. There is no ceiling for him."

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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