OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Cornerback Lardarius Webb celebrated with his teammates in New Orleans following the Ravens win in Super Bowl XLVII, but knowing he didn’t make an impact on the field left him unsatisfied.
That feeling has been the driving force behind his recovery from a torn ACL suffered in mid-October that sidelined him for the rest of the Ravens’ championship season. As Ray Lewis rode off into the sunset of a brilliant 17-year career and Ed Reed played his final game as a Raven raising the Vince Lombardi Trophy, Webb could only watch from the sideline as he cheered on the rest of his team.
He wants an opportunity to get back — as a player on the field this time.
“It feels good to be a Super Bowl champion, but I want to play,” Webb said. “I want to play in it. That’s still my motivation to this day. I want to play in a Super Bowl.”
Regarded by many as the Ravens’ best defensive performer in the first five weeks of the 2012 season, Webb entered a Week 6 game against the Dallas Cowboys with one interception and was tied for third on the team with 25 tackles. However, the 27-year-old suffered the second devastating injury of his career in tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee less than three years after experiencing the same injury with his other knee.
The news devastated Webb as he could only focus on the long road to recovery as the Ravens experienced an up-and-down regular season before finally getting hot at the right time en route to their second NFL championship.
“It was hard at first. I couldn’t believe it had happened again, going through that adversity,” Webb said. “After a week or two with my family, friends, and this locker room, I was able to keep my head up. Being strong. What I did was just came every day, just worked my butt off. The head trainer [Mark Smith], he’s pushing me hard and he’s taking great care of me.”
Webb has begun running and appears on track to be 100 percent by the summer, but the Ravens have made it a point to take it slow to prevent any setbacks. He had the advantage of a longer recovery time with his second ACL injury compared to when he injured his left knee in the final month of his rookie season in 2009.
The former third-round pick signed a six-year, $50 million contract last offseason and appeared on the cusp of becoming a Pro Bowl cornerback entering the 2012 season. Beginning with the start of the 2011 season, continuing with the 2011 playoffs, and concluding at the time of his knee injury in Week 6 of last year, Webb’s nine interceptions were tied for the league lead.
“He’s coming along well,” strength and conditioning coach Bob Rogucki said. “Right now, as far as the rehab, he’s still under the athletic training staff as far as his legs. I train his upper body; I train his non-involved leg. He is now beginning to run with us, so he’s coming along according to course.”
The Ravens will lean on Webb to provide more leadership along with Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata on the defensive side of the football to replace the cavernous void left by Lewis and Reed. That’s a major reason why Webb is reveling in the opportunity to continue his recovery at the team’s Owings Mills facility as the offseason conditioning program began last week.
Even though Webb struggled to make it back to play at a high level in the year immediately following his 2009 knee injury, simply knowing he was eventually able to return to such a high level of play has helped the Nicholls State product push through the difficult process.
“It did, just with my confidence level and what I’m going to have to go through,” Webb said. “It made it very easy. All I can do is come here and work every day and that’s what I do.”
Webb was very brief in answering questions about his progress — perhaps not wanting to look too far ahead — as he simply insists the knee is coming along well without delving into any specific timetable at which he’ll be 100 percent. The coaching staff sees no reason why he won’t be lining up for Baltimore’s first training camp practices in late July.
And with fellow starting cornerback Cary Williams departing for the Philadelphia Eagles in free agency, defensive coordinator Dean Pees will welcome Webb back as soon as he’s cleared.
“Lardarius is on schedule, at least, maybe ahead of schedule,” coach John Harbaugh said. “He looks really good. He should be ready to roll [for] training camp, it looks like. We are going to make sure we don’t have a setback. That’s the most important thing.”
It isn’t easy going through two ACL injuries in three years and missing the opportunity to play in the Super Bowl, but Webb displays the same confidence he had prior to the injury that ended his 2012 season prematurely.
He hears the doubters wondering if he can get back to the same level of play after another serious knee injury and he wears a chip on his shoulder proudly.
“I’m just working my butt off,” Webb said. “When the time comes, No. 21 will be back.”