Football / Sports

Lions rookie Larry Webster looks promising with his raw ability at defensive end

DETROIT -- Preseason conditioning can be a tedious thing, so Bloomsburg (Pa.) University basketball coach John Sanow does what he can to inject a little life into the workouts.

The Huskies run sprints and make regular trips to the weight room, and Sanow also brings his team out to Bloomsburg's football stadium to play a game or two of two-hand touch every fall.

It was during one of these lighthearted scrimmages a few years ago that Sanow saw Larry Webster III streaking downfield catching passes and noticed a striking resemblance between his jumping-jack forward, the one who set Bloomsburg's career record for blocked shots, and a bulldozer of a point guard he used to coach at named London Fletcher.

Fletcher played one season of basketball at St. Francis, broke a backboard during his time there, then transferred to John Carroll, where he walked on to the football team.

Last year, Fletcher finished a 16-year NFL career without ever missing a game.

"Just the raw athleticism that both of them had, you could see it," Sanow said. "Larry, one of the things going back to him working out, we would do preseason workouts on the track and we'd run 220s and when Larry would come off that corner in the 220 he would just kick into another gear and just blow everybody away. Even our track coaches would be in the middle of the field like putting a watch on him. It was just that impressive to watch him run."

Webster did plenty of impressive things at Bloomsburg.

He started for the basketball team almost from the minute he arrived on campus as a freshman. Some of his blocked shots and alley-oop dunks are legendary at the school.

And two years ago, after his basketball eligibility expired, he walked onto the football team, where he promptly led the Huskies in sacks for two straight seasons and played as a red-zone option on offense at tight end.

Webster's phenomenal athletic ability caught the eye of many NFL scouts, and the Detroit Lions took him in the fourth round of last week's draft in hopes of adding him to their defensive line rotation this fall.

"He's got a huge upside," Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. "Obviously, he's a guy that certainly has explosion. He has speed, he has quickness, he's intelligent. ... And working with him out here, I think our guys on our defensive line have been pleased with where he is right now."

Webster won't have the immediate impact in the NFL that he did at Bloomsburg, when he had 13.5 sacks in 2012 and 12.5 more last year. But the Lions are gambling that the 6-feet-6, 252-pound pass rusher's raw ability will turn into something special.

Though he played football in high school, Webster was starting almost from scratch when he returned to the football field at the urging of Sanow and Bloomsburg football coach Paul Darragh.

He called his dad -- Larry Webster Jr., who played 10 NFL seasons with four different teams -- to tell him the news one day, and a week later they were in a parking lot at Towson University near Larry Jr.'s home in Baltimore working on pass-rush moves.

A space-eating defensive tackle in his playing days, Webster Jr. said he spent two hours that day showing his son how to get in proper three- and four-point stances. He taught him two basic pass-rush moves, a swim move and a rip he learned from his former teammate, Trevor Pryce. And he reminded him time and again that he had to start taking care of his body.

"Larry's a sponge," Larry Jr. said of his son. "He's a great kid, not necessarily because he's my son but because he listens. And when I talked to him I asked him, 'Do you want to go where I was?' He said, 'Yeah, I would love to get drafted by the NFL.' I said, 'Well, OK, you're on your way. You keep listening.' And I'm going to tell him all my do's and my don'ts. What not to do, what to do, how you're supposed to act, how you're supposed to conduct yourself as far as being a professional. Everything a father can give to a son as far as his knowledge of being there."

Webster got by mostly on athletic ability in his first season back playing football. He had 39 tackles, 15 for loss, and caught his only two passes for touchdowns.

With only one semester of eligibility left and scouts starting to sniff around his game, Webster took last spring off school so he could get a second season of college football under his belt and spent his time away working with his father again.

Webster moved back to his father's home in Baltimore, where he started eating six meals a day to add weight. He hit the weight room, learned how to properly watch film. He spent his afternoons with a martial arts instructor working on hand technique and did field drills with his father, who was coaching at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute at the time.

When Webster returned for camp that summer, Darragh said he noticed instant improvement.

"Just some things were a little more natural to him," Darragh said. "Again, I just think the more he does it, the better he's going to get."

Darragh didn't use Webster on offense as much as he planned last year, but as the pre-draft process unraveled, some teams trying to find the next Jimmy Graham or Julius Thomas -- college basketball players who converted to football -- still viewed him as a tight end.

Webster worked out on both offense and defense at his pro day, and the Lions took notice. They brought Webster in for a pre-draft visit, and scout Chad Henry called Darragh one day to tell him defensive line coaches Jim Washburn and Kris Kocurek were smitten with Webster's athletic ability.

"There was kind of a fascination (some teams had with him as a tight end)," Darragh said. "But the more he played on the defensive line and the more we did different things with him and standing him up and dropping him into coverage and doing things, I think that was clear to them that he had the ability to do that. I think the majority of the teams still looked at him like the Lions did -- as a defensive end."

Webster said Friday the Lions haven't talked about using him on offense, and that's nowhere in the plans.

Though he's far from a finished product, he's a pass rusher now -- one that his father said is more talented than he ever dreamed.

"I've told him plenty of times, I said you are better than me but at this point you have to learn to be better than me," Larry Webster Jr. said. "His speed, his tenacity and Larry, he's a quiet storm. He might not talk as much here and there, but he's one of those quiet storms. He's kind of calm, cool and collective, but you best believe when he's out there he likes to go, he likes to hit. As he goes on and as he learns it, you can expect great things from him."

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