8-20-02, 10:10 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
GEORGETOWN, Ky. – The one bit of advice Richmond Webb has tried to pass on to Levi Jones about playing left tackle in the NFL is the counsel a Hall-of-Fame quarterback by the name of Dan Marino once gave to a couple of kids at a long-ago Dolphins' training camp.
Marino approached Webb and his fellow rookie offensive lineman, Keith Sims, and asked them, "What's the most important thing you have to remember?"
They looked at Marino, and then looked at each other. The plays? Recognizing defenses?
"And Marino said, 'Protect me. That's the most important thing to remember,'" Webb recalled with a laugh Tuesday after another practice. "It was a joke, but not really a joke."
And that's where the Bengals are right now in a way. They are trying to protect the dignity of Webb, while at the same time trying to develop Jones, their first-round pick set to eventually replace Webb.
The idea is to make the move as classy as the man who is going to be moved.
Webb knows Jones is going to be the Bengals' starting left tackle some time this season. "A matter of time," said Webb when his seven Pro Bowls will be second team. "I'm a team guy. As long as it's the best thing for the team, I'll do whatever they want me to do."
As long as it is done with the dignity the man has shown since the Dolphins drafted him No. 1 out of Texas A&M in 1990, which, maybe fittingly, is that last golden year in Bengaldom.
"I think they'll let me know and I think I'll know before the media knows," Webb said. "As long as it is like that, I don't have a problem with it."
It almost happened this Saturday night against the Saints. After the Bengals saw Jones continue his progress against fellow rookie defensive end Dwight Freeney in Indianapolis last weekend and
compared how Webb played against Freeney, there was some talk that it was time to see what Jones could do in the starting lineup.
But the coaches talked about it Monday night and the call was to stick with Webb, then go to Jones early enough to play against the Saints' first-teamers.
"I have too much respect for Richmond Webb to be disrespectful in any way because he has earned that," said offensive line coach Paul Alexander. "He was outstanding last week, but one game doesn't make a career. Richmond's career has (been) very distinguished. So the question is game vs. career."
There have been some rumblings inside and outside the locker room that there is no reason to rush Jones into the lineup and risk stunting his growth with negative experiences with Webb sitting right here.
But Webb, 35, isn't one of those naysayers, probably because he stepped in and started Opening Day his rookie year for a playoff team. He says that debate is for the coaches.
But Webb can see there are no questions about the kid's abilities and maybe that makes it easier, too. A Pro Football Hall-of-Fame candidate about to be replaced by a potential 10-year top tier player.
"We think we've got one in Levi," said Bengals President Mike Brown. "He's smart, he works at it, he's a try-hard guy, and he's competitive, and he's an outstanding blocker on top of it all."
Webb has been convinced by Jones' improvement from minicamp to now and how he has absorbed the playbook and techniques. He has been extremely impressed by what Jones has done in the running game.
"He had an excellent minicamp and then he got in the pads and picked right up," Webb said. "It took me a year to get used to (the Bengals' running game) and I'm still figuring out some of it. I think that's because it was so much different from what I was used to doing.
" But that's the (biggest improvement for Jones) is that he really has a grasp of it," Webb said. "He's real aggressive. He's putting guys on their backs and playing real well coming off the ball."
Back in the bad old days, there were seasons Alexander was forced to play rookies simply because they had a decent resting pulse. Anyone who remembers the name Melvin Tuten and the frightening Opening Day image of 1996 in St. Louis when draft picks Rod Jones and Ken Blackman broke from the opening huddle, has to believe that Alexander wouldn't rush a soul.
But it's not about Tuten and Ki-Jana Carter's 16 yards on 16 carries in St. Louis.
"Who ever helps us win is going to play and that's why they're both playing well," Alexander said. "Because they know those are the rules, everybody feels it's a fair game."
Webb has been generous with his time and knowledge. You can see it during practice after Jones goes one-on-one, or when they walk from the dining hall to the dorm they share with fellow tackles Willie Anderson and Jamain Stephens. You can see it on the sidelines during games, where Webb has been watching and helping. In his first game against the Bills, Webb helped him decipher a move with a quick tip on how to use his hands.
In '90, at Stalag Shula, Webb got more help from the defensive linemen than his linemates because the veterans Webb and Sims replaced were holdouts. Freeney helped Webb hammer home his point to Jones about the talent level.
"It's going to be like that every week," Webb said. "It's not like college when you'll have some weeks off. It's usually the team's best rusher every week."
Webb turns 36 two weeks after the season and he has one year left on his deal: "I feel pretty good. If they want me back, I'll come back. I'll have to see how I feel."
Webb will no doubt retire a Dolphin and be honored on the walls of Pro Player Stadium. But as Jones is about to emerge from under his wing, it's clear that he has made lasting contributions to each franchise.
AKILI TO RUN WITH ONES?:** Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau might have shook up a few folks by indicating he'll have a quick hook for his quarterbacks if it means the difference between winning and losing a game. But it depends on who is doing the listening. Akili Smith, unable to get a start and still No. 3 despite leading the two pre-season wins, said, "Given my situation, that sounds all right to me." LeBeau did say Tuesday that Smith might get his first shot with the first team against the Saints.
HAND FOR WESTBROOK: This business about wide receiver Michael Westbrook possibly being a moody, bad influence in the locker room has turned utterly laughable at this training camp. Just 23 days after breaking his left wrist, Westbrook went through an entire practice Tuesday in full pads before head coach Dick LeBeau ordered everyone's pads off for the last 40 minutes or so.
Even though he is wearing a full cast, Westbrook showed the ability to catch the ball and get it up field quickly.
"I feel like I cheated my teammates by missing a week and half, two weeks of practice," Westbrook said. "I want to make
it up to them by making plays when the season starts. I know I could be back in the dorm watching practices on tape, but I'm not that type of guy."
Westbrook is out for this Saturday's game, but wants to play in the Aug. 29 pre-season finale against Atlanta for a series. Trainer Paul Sparling isn't so sure.
"He went through this before (in 1999 with the right wrist) and he assured me it would be the quickest recovery time we had ever seen," Sparling said. "And so far he's been pretty close to right. He has been a professional about the whole thing and he just wants to play football. We have to see what the benefit would be for playing a little bit (vs. the Falcons) against the risk. Would it be worth it?"
Westbrook isn't sure if he would wear the full cast against Atlanta that gives him plenty of protection, or the partial cast that he would wear starting Sept. 8 in the opener. He freely moved his fingers and slapped his palm after practice and said, "I can catch the ball, there's no question about that. I can catch the ball wearing anything, but I just have to be careful not to jam the wrist again anytime soon."
SLANTS AND SCREENS:** There were two semi-baseball celebrities at Tuesday's practice in wide receiver Danny Farmer and Steve Dorsch, the father of rookie kicker Travis Dorsch. Farmer's cousin, Kevin Farmer, played first base for the Aptos, Calif., team
eliminated Tuesday from the Little League World Series in a 5-2 loss to Harlem. Steve Dorsch arrived here fresh from coaching Bozeman American Legion Post 14 to an appearance in Montana's state Legion tournament.
"This is the fourth time he's been on TV this week," said Danny Farmer, who doesn't make his first pro appearance on ESPN until next month. "I'm trying to get more pub from this than him. I think I'm a bigger fan of his than he is of mine."
Of course, Farmer was laughing the whole way. On Tuesday, he wore to and from practice the green "West," jersey the players wore that his uncle sent him from Williamsport.
"It's such a great thing for him and his family," said Farmer as he hurried to his dorm to watch the last innings. "Everyone is so pumped."
Steve Dorsch has been coaching baseball a long time, but he's also a football junkie used to hanging out at football training camps. When the family lived in San Diego, he took Travis to the Chargers' camp, as well as to the San Diego State practices, where they invited a future Bengals receiver named Darnay Scott to their home for dinner.
On Tuesday morning, Steve snuck over to Lexington to watch the University of Kentucky practice and made it back in time for the Bengals' afternoon workout. He's not surprised that his son is coming off his best week of practice, which resulted in his first two NFL field goals.
"He's used to being around camps like this," Steve said, "but he also had to find a comfort level and he seems to have that now. He knows he has to come in here and work to get the job. He doesn't want anything handed to him." . . .
There is concern that DE Eric Ogbogu could miss all the pre-season games with the strained calf that has taken him out of all but the first week of practice. A free-agent from the Jets, Ogbogu had been one of the most impressive defensive linemen in that first week when he displayed his high energy and quickness from the left end spot. Sparling said it's not a long-term problem and he could very well be back for the opener. But does he make it without virtually playing a snap? It's one of the many roster puzzles facing the coaches. . .
MLB Brian Simmons didn't finish practice Tuesday with a sore lower back, but is expected to play Saturday. . .