Webb named starter

4-30-01, 5:20 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The Bengals came into the offseason limping at 4-12 while seeking a pass-protecting left tackle and a pass-rushing defensive end.

Suddenly, in a span of nine days, they added the best pass rusher in the draft in Missouri end Justin Smith and one of the NFL's top pass protectors of all time in Richmond Webb.

Webb, the seven-time Miami Dolphins' Pro Bowler who protected Dan Marino's blindside through the '90s, was named the Bengals' starting left tackle Monday hours after he agreed to a three-year, $9 million deal with the Bengals.

"His name will go No. 1 on the depth chart, but it will be an open competition," said Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau.

"This is a great day if you're Dick LeBeau," he said. "Not only do we get a quality player, but we get a quality person. One who has been associated with a winning program his whole career and that should give us added strength in the locker room."

The enormity of the deal wasn't lost on John Jackson, the 14-year veteran who ended last season as the starting left tackle.

"I welcome Richmond with open arms," Jackson said Monday. "Because I know what kind of player he is and what kind of person he is. He makes us a better team and that's what this is all about."

The 6-6, 320-pound Webb spent Monday scrambling at his home in the Houston area trying to piece together his travel plans for this weekend's minicamp at Paul Brown Stadium.

The man who has started 13 playoff games and never been on a losing team has no qualms about coming to a team that hasn't been to the playoffs since his rookie season of 1990.

"I felt very comfortable there," said Webb of his trip to Cincinnati last week. "I was treated very well by everyone. Dick LeBeau was great with me. And they've got a lot of good young players on offense."

Last week, there was some excitement about Webb's age of

of 34. But after watching him play on tape this past season, a consensus built among management and coaches.

"He does not look like a 34-year-old man when he plays," said Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander. "He's an energetic guy who has been a shut-down performer and is still one of the best tackles in football. I saw six games (from this past season) and I never saw anyone near the quarterback."

The Bengals were banged for not taking a left tackle in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft. But the way it worked out, the league's worst pass offense has added Webb, a playoff quarterback in Jon Kitna, and two wide receivers who have run 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash in rehabbing Darnay Scott and rookie Chad Johnson.

"Maybe some of these draft analysts will want to go back on their evaluations," Alexander said. "It seems to me some of these grades were given when the semester wasn't over."

Rod Jones, the embattled left tackle who got benched twice last season, is still in the team picture after losing about 35 pounds and getting down to 317. But the question is, where?

Jackson, 36, who replaced Jones last season, signed a two-year extension back in January. He still appears to be the backup, but Jones could get a shot there, as well as a chance at backing up Willie Anderson at right tackle, or maybe moving to guard.

"Rod is definitely still in the picture," LeBeau said. "I'm pleased with what Rod has done. He's earned another opportunity to give it a go. The Webb signing gives us the flexibility to look at Rod and/or (backup right tackle) Jamain Stephens in other situations that might not have been possible."

Webb played 164 games for the Dolphins, 118 of them consecutive starts from 1991-98 to set the team record.

Only Marino, Bob Kuechenberg, Nat Moore, and Ed Newman have played in more Dolphins' games than Webb.

He admitted it felt funny being called "a former Dolphin," but he's getting used to it.

"That's the way it is with free agency now," said Webb, who didn't go back to the Dolphins for salary cap reasons. "You move on. I had a great time there. Now I'm a Cincinnati Bengal and I'm looking forward to it."

Dolphins left guard Mark Dixon knew Webb missed the Miami minicamp this past weekend. He recalled how Webb brought the offensive line together because the common bond was that everyone got along with him.

"He may be the most impressive person I have ever met, both as a player and as a human being," Dixon said. "He's a Hall of Fame player."

Webb is as durable as they make them. He's missed six starts since Dolphins coach Don Shula took him No. 1 out of Texas A&M in 1990. Two starts came last year, but he had arthroscopic surgery this offseason on both elbows to clean out "floating bodies."

The one knock on Webb has been that he doesn't mash people in the running game. But word out of Miami is that his run blocking has improved the past three seasons. Plus, the Bengals feel he's savvy enough and knows the league well enough that he'll have no problem sealing off plays.

"All I know is this," Alexander said. "We just got better as a team. Anyone who finds something wrong with this move has to be a sour human being."

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