O'HARA: Webster waited patiently, now it's his turn

Posted Aug 3, 2015

Larry Webster's stock is rising after a rookie season when the chart on his contributions to the rotation on the Lions’ front four was a straight line.

Larry Webster’s stock is rising after a rookie season when the chart on his contributions to the rotation on the Lions’ front four was a straight line. There were no highs or lows, no peaks or valleys.
Larry WebsterDE Larry Webster (Photo: Detroit Lions)

Really, in terms of playing time there was nothing to show a gain or loss for Webster because he never played in a game. He was active for one game but never got on the field. In reality, he was a sideline spectator for every game.

That did not make Webster’s rookie season a waste, though. He developed his game in practice and got bigger and stronger physically in the weight room.

The projection the Lions had when they drafted him in the fourth round out of Bloomsburg, where he played basketball for four years before making the switch to football for a final fifth season in 2013, was that his athleticism would make him a valuable pass rusher.

The Lions expect to get the payoff on that projection this year. George Johnson’s departure to Tampa Bay as a free agent has created an opportunity for Webster to get playing time.

Someone has to pick up the slack for Johnson’s absence. Johnson had never had a sack in parts of four previous seasons, but he had six in a reserve role. Webster is being counted on to fill that void.

“I’ve been waiting,” Webster said after the first practice of training camp Monday. “There are always going to be opportunities. Next man up.”

Webster waited patiently – and quietly – for his chance.  He is a man of few words.

He has steadily gotten bigger and stronger since leaving the basketball court at Bloomsburg. He was 6-6 and 240 pounds after his fourth season of basketball at Bloomsburg. By the time he got to the Combine in February of 2014 he bulked up to 252 pounds.

He has continued to put on weight, but he also studied to improve his game. He wanted to get better, not just bigger.

‘I came into camp probably at 260 last year,” Webster said. “This year I came in at 270. I’m playing low and know the plays better. I just try to use my athletic ability as best as I can. I just try to make as many plays as possible.”

The Lions’ front four has to perform at its peak for the defense to be at a high level, and the rotation up front is critical. The Lions carried as many as 10 and 11 linemen at times last year, and nine routinely were active on game day.

Webster was the odd man out, but he was not a forgotten lineman. Veteran Darryl Tapp, who’s back for his 10th pro season and second as a Lion, understood that Webster’s playing time was blocked because of the experience and talent ahead of him. Devin Taylor, who had a strong rookie season, saw his snap count drop last year because of players like Johnson and Tapp.

“Larry came to a team where we were kind of stacked last year on the defensive line,” Tapp said. “We had guys who kind of stepped up out of nowhere, like George Johnson. He was an awesome player or us.

“Larry used his time very well. He used last year to sit, study the game, and learn from the older players – myself and Jason Jones.

“He used his offseason to get in way better shape. He has a huge frame. He can carry that much weight. Now it’s really a question of getting him in the game – getting him in the real fire and see how he responds and reacts to the situation and go from there.

“It just wasn’t his time last year. I think it’s going to be a very good year for him to take a step forward.”