Back in orange

3-5-04, 5:45 a.m.


Kim Herring had to run to catch a plane to Fort Lauderdale.

Nate Webster, the kid who grew up in Miami, played at Miami, and stayed in Florida to play in the pros at Tampa Bay, had a later plane and the Bengals new middle linebacker was glad to talk Thursday after signing what ESPN called a five-year, $11.3 million deal with $2.5 million to sign.

As well as being a ferocious and fast player, Webster is also known for talking a navy blue streak on the field. But he was quite eloquent talking off it Thursday ("I'm going to keep it PG") when he heard that Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis compared his style to the man he followed in the middle at Miami.

Ray Lewis.

"Coming out of Miami, you've got a little bit of Ray. Got a little bit of Micheal Barrow. A little bit of Jessie Armstead. Little bit of Darrin Smith," Webster said. "That's the combination of speed, little bit of hitting, little bit of everything.

"That's a compliment," Webster said of the Lewis comparison. "You've got to respect your elders. Ray and Mike Barrow. They (paid their dues) before I got there. Just being with those guys, you learn and that makes you a better player."

Webster had enough time for a get-away conversation with **

GH: So one of your nicknames is Manster II? Who is Manster 1?

NW:That's right. Half man. Half monster. (Former Jets linebacker) Marvin Jones was the first one. We went to the same high school in Miami. Northwestern.

GH: Your coach in Tampa, Jon Gruden, said you had that look where he always thought you were going to bust up the soda machine. Where did you get that from?

NW:** Military-minded if that's what you want to call it. I think I got it from the greatest. Dick Butkus. Jack Tatum. Watching them trying to take

somebody's head off. I was raised on it. When I was in high school, the first thing my coach did was sit down and put on tape of Dick Butkus. I think that's where the aggressiveness came from. He was trying to rip some dude's head off, and it's legal. You could do it then. It's a man's game. **

GH: They say you're always in the middle of it. That you're never going to back away from a fight. What was your toughest fight?

NW:I would have to say (Bills guard) Ruben Brown. That was the one guy I may have backed down from. He told me he was going to end my career. I poked him in the eyes. I tried to go get Sapp and get Ruben off me.

GH: You basically signed sight unseen, before you even got here. I guess when Marvin Lewis asks you if you want to play in the middle of his defense, the answer is, "Where do I sign?"

NW:** It's easy to say yes just on Marvin's background. Marvin has a background on me. I played after Ray in Miami. My linebacker coach recruited me when I was coming out of high school. I knew about these guys.

(Bengals linebackers coach Ricky Hunley recruited Webster while coaching at the University of Missouri.) **

GH: You're a Miami guy all the way and that means something special in football. What's it mean to you?

NW:I'm back in that orange. That's it. I just want to play. That's how I am. You can cut me off, take my mouth away, as long as I'm able to play the game. I have love for this game that goes deep. I'm (was) fortunate to be surrounded by great linebackers in Tampa. Guys like (Derrick) Brooks and Shelton (Quarles), and Al Singleton. But when the opportunity presented itself (because of injuries in '03), I led the team in tackles the first six games. I'm hungry to get that taste back in my mouth.

GH: You've always played and, I imagine, lived in Florida. What do you think of snow and the cold?

NW:** It doesn't matter. As long as I'm on the field, as long as I'm playing, it doesn't matter.

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