LSU CB Corey Webster has paid very close attention to Coach Mike Tomlin's instructions
At Louisiana State, cornerback Corey Webster played in an aggressive defensive scheme under Head Coach Nick Saban, usually staying up on his man at the line of scrimmage. Saban recently left LSU to take over the head coaching job with the Miami Dolphins, so if Webster ends up in Miami in 2005, he should be very familiar with the system.
The thing is, there are 31 other NFL teams, meaning Webster stands a very good chance of not starting his professional career with the Dolphins. Depending on the scheme in which he ends up, the 22-year-old college all-star may face a steep learning curve to get himself ready to play.
Fortunately, Webster is getting a head start on that process at the 2005 Senior Bowl, where he is playing for the South squad and absorbing critical daily lessons from Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defensive Backs Coach Mike Tomlin.
"There are many ways to skin this cat, and they're going to find that they have different coaches over the course of their careers that will ask them to do the same things in different ways," said Tomlin of Webster and the other eight South team defensive backs under his direction this week. "It's about taking the information and relating it and being able to execute, doing what you're asked to do. That's part of being a professional. So I want to challenge them and take them outside their box a little bit. This a preview of what life's going to be like for them next year."
The Buccaneers' scheme, for instance, is significantly different from Saban's, though the preparations this week are tailored more toward the specific rules of the Senior Bowl. What Tomlin is stressing to Webster and the others is some very fundamental techniques – fundamental, but specific.
For instance, in on drill during an individual position period of Thursday afternoon's practice, Tomlin worked with the players on backpedaling, planting and driving forward. The techniques espoused by the Buccaneer coach are so detailed that they demand a specific direction for each foot to be pointed in at the moment they are planted and used to generate power.
A dedicated athlete who has pursued his NFL dream since childhood, Webster came to Mobile, Alabama, site of the Senior Bowl, intent on learning as much as he could. He has drunk in every word from Tomlin on the practice field and studied hard in the meetings between workouts.
"Everybody here has the ability to play, but Coach Tomlin broke it down like this: If you want to play in the league and be successful, you have to work on your techniques and fundamentals," said Webster. "Everybody here is talented, but technique will take you longer than just ability. He's been stressing that the whole week."
Tomlin has been impressed with the talent level in the South secondary, and he has been pleased to see Webster work so hard on improving his game.
"If I could use one characteristic to describe him, he's show that he's mentally tough this week," said Tomlin of the first-team all-SEC performer. "He has been just wired in, and has been able to improve technically all week. He's been locked in during meetings, he's attentive out here and he learns from other people's mistakes. He's impressive that way, and guys who are like that have an opportunity to be good players."
In the post-practice huddle on Thursday, Head Coach Jon Gruden challenged his South squad players to stay focused for two more days, then pointed out that Friday's walk-through would be their last practice as amateurs. That points to another valuable service that Tomlin and the other Buc coaches are giving these 50 South squadders: Help in the transition from the college game to the pros.
For instance, Tomlin spent several minutes during his individual period with the DBs to work on their 're-routing' of receivers near the line of scrimmage. Lining the players up four yards off the line of scrimmage, he reminded them that they had to hold their ground vertically when preparing to knock the receiver off his route. The reason, if the defensive back were to slide back two yards and make contact with the receiver at the six, he would draw an illegal-contact flag. That's not a problem on the college level, but it is a key piece of knowledge in the NFL given the league's new emphasis on enforcing the illegal-contact rule.
That's just another lesson that Webster has eagerly filed away. As the final full-scale practice of the week came to an end on Thursday, he looked back on the week as an enjoyable and productive experience, thanks in large part to the efforts of the Buccaneer coaching staff.
"Coach Tomlin has done a great job with me," said Webster. "He's been taking us all in like we're his guys, and he's done a great job with me, especially. It's been a great experience. He's helped with me off coverage, because we really don't play that at LSU. He took me into his hands. He even talked to my Dad, who was down here the whole week.
"Coach Saban did a great job with the style of defense he runs, and I think that's going to help me. Then coming down here this week with Coach Tomlin and the other Buc assistants, learning the Buccaneer system, only gives me another edge. It gives us an idea of what we're going to see in the future, the defenses we'll have to learn and the criticism that we're going to take and use in a positive way. That's what I've been doing down here all week, working on my weaknesses."
Tomlin simply wants Webster and the other South squad defensive backs to understand that success on the NFL level is all about technique and opportunity. The better your technique, the more opportunities you'll have. Thus, he has stressed techniques that will help them form a solid base for success in any system.
"I want to challenge them, present them with some different things that they hadn't heard before and ask them to perform under pressure. And they've been wired in," he said. "They understand that this is a week-long job interview and they approached it as such. Man, they've been working their butts off."
Mission accomplished. Said Webster: "He said he was going to make me better, and that's just what he did. I listened to everything he said."