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Nate Webster Article


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Found this on another website:

Column by The Post's Lonnie Wheeler

Just looking at Nate Webster, you don't see a whole lot. Not a lot of height. Not a lot of weight. Not a lot of Ray Lewis. When the football season starts, we'll probably see right away what moved Marvin Lewis to sign this unimposing linebacker for five years and realign Kevin Hardy to make room for him in the middle. We'll probably see it in the preseason. As a backup to Pro Bowlers in Tampa Bay, Webster took the preseason very seriously.

Opponents got really mad at Webster in the preseason, the way he flew at them and took shots that are generally reserved for real time and rookies. Officials threw flags at him. Teammates called him a wildman.

But you don't see that just looking at Webster. Not yet. In May, in the Bengals' locker room, you pick it up only by listening to the man.

"They let the dog out of the cage," he says. "The dog is officially out of the cage."

He says this without menace in his eyes or malice aforethought. He says it as a man who loves football so much that he's at Paul Brown Stadium by 6:15 every morning, flipping on the light in the film room, studying every play of the NFL's 28th-ranked defense in 2003.

He says it as a man who knows that opportunity is coming right at him, dressed in gold, pads lowered, game on the line. There is no Derrick Brooks -- the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in 2002 -- ahead of him now on the depth chart, no Warren Sapp or John Lynch to make a play.

Webster's new linebacker coach, Ricky Hunley, has called him "a tackling machine." His old linebacker coach, Tampa Bay's Joe Barry, had this to say to a Florida newspaper last year, when the irrepressible University of Miami product was in his fourth preseason of desperately searching for somebody to hit:

"Everyone sees this intense wildman. But the thing that Nate has that is overlooked a lot is that he has unbelievable linebacker instincts. Nate is wild and crazy and tough, but that's not why he's such a good linebacker. The reason he's so (darn) good is because he has such wonderful God-given instincts of a linebacker."

He got those, somehow, back in Liberty City, the part of Miami best known as the site, in 1980, of the first American race riot since the Civil Rights Movement. Eighteen people died and 855 were arrested. Webster was two. So was Chad Johnson, a neighbor Webster came to know at Northwestern High School.

When Webster was a linebacker for the Florida state champs -- he tried running back, but sprained his ankle and wanted nothing more of it -- Johnson, then a junior varsity player, used to hang around the varsity, doling out water and talking the way he talks. Then Webster stopped seeing him until his school played Miami Beach and a familiar face lined up at quarterback.

"Somebody mentioned something to me about how I punched Chad in the eye when we played," he says. "I couldn't remember it, but I went to Chad and it came back to me. I was mad at him because he was supposed to come to our high school."

Their similarities are more than geographical, and more than a mere coincidence of rostering. Both of them are hang-around-the-stadium, can't-get-enough-of-it guys. Both are inclined to, shall we say, articulate their ambitions in clear and colorful terms.

Johnson, who calls himself 7-11because he's always open, predicts touchdowns and victories. Webster is withholding that kind of bravado until he has put in a few games as a starter, but he is openly revved-up about being the guy calling and making the plays in the center of the Cincinnati defense.

"Initiating that fire," he says. "Burn, baby, burn."

It's a style and spirit on which Lewis is blatantly building. While the coach's first year with the Bengals brought eight wins and national acclaim, the defense wasn't what he had in mind. One season wasn't enough time to transform it into something like he had in Baltimore.

As a result, the offseason emphasis has been on speed and instincts and good men who get with the program; especially linebackers. Webster, it seems, is the prototypical New Bengal. Perhaps more than anyone else, he is the type of player on whom Lewis is hanging his hat.

But you can't tell it by looking at him. Yet.

Love reading about this guy. How can you not like the positive attitude ??


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