Webb sees Jones in mirror

5-2-02, 6:30 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

It has sounded all so familiar to Richmond Webb when he hears about the kid he knows will eventually take his job as the Bengals left tackle. And he knows it could very possibly be some time this year.

"Great explosion. Quick feet. The huge wingspan," said Webb before Friday night's opening meeting of minicamp. "I had about a six-foot wingspan, but my arms are shorter now because I can't straighten them."

This is what people are saying about Levi Jones this weekend as the Bengals' first-rounder dons stripes for the first time. It's what they said 12 years ago when the Dolphins took Webb with the ninth pick in the NFL Draft out of Texas A&M. It's not lost on him the Bengals took Jones with the 10th pick out of Arizona State two weeks ago.

"That's not a reach," Webb said. "When you look long term at that position, you're looking for a guy that can play 10-12 years. I'm in my 13th year, John Jackson is in his 15th year. We're near the end of the road. I thought it was a great pick. Anyway I can help him, I will."

Webb, who started Opening Day as a rookie next to another rookie , figures Jones is going to start ahead of him at some point this

season. His first advice to him about winning the job sooner rather than later is to avoid a long holdout.

"I'm not going to lay down, but if he can play, they're going to put him out there because he's the future and there's no better way to learn than to go out and do it," Webb said. "That's what Coach (Don) Shula did throwing us out there.

"I'm not telling him how to live his life and I know this is business and things happen," Webb said. "But it really helped me before training camp that I worked every day with (Dolphins line coach John Sandusky) on pass sets for about an hour and I only held out for a week. Being here is going to help his chances at playing some time this year. The blocking schemes here are a little different. I still struggle with it a little bit."

Webb, 35, is signed through 2003 and is coming off his first season in Cincinnati in which he was a major reason the offensive line allowed 24 fewer sacks than the previous season. He missed the last 50 snaps of last season with a groin strain, and has struggled at times against the run, but he still the consummate professional left tackle.

Yet when asked if this will be the final season of a possible Hall-of-Fame career that includes seven straight Pro Bowls, Webb is also realistic.

"If I play another year, I might have to back up," Webb said. "It depends how I feel at the end of the season. That might be possible that I back up.You have to understand that you're only playing at the (top) level for so long. But eventually, if you still want to be part of the game, or be on a team, you might have to take a lesser role. But I'll cross that bridge."

Webb is in about the same shape as he was at last year's minicamp. He figures he's at about 345 pounds and needs to lose 20 to get to his playing weight.

Playing or not, the drafting of Jones has signaled to Webb that his career is coming full circle.

"It doesn't seem that long ago," Webb said of that '90 draft. "But now I've got these guys coming up and telling me they watched me on TV when they were in grade school."

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