Rookie Nate Webster may have to start in Jamie Duncan's place on Monday
On Thursday, Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie linebacker Nate Webster talked about food and fear, about guidance and blessings, and he did it all with a wide smile on his face.
This is not a man feeling any pressure.
On Saturday, Head Coach Tony Dungy indicated that Webster is likely to start against the Minnesota Vikings on Monday night.
Webster has played only sparingly through the Bucs' first five games, backing up starter Jamie Duncan at middle linebacker. Against Washington last Sunday, Webster got into the game for about 10 plays when Duncan was shaken up by a hard collision. After the game, it was announced that Duncan had a concussion and on Monday, Head Coach Tony Dungy indicated that the Bucs' starter may have to miss a game.
On Saturday, Duncan practiced for the first time this week and felt completely normal. However, since Webster has taken most of the first-team work this week, Dungy is leaning towards starting the rookie. Whether or not Duncan will be activated has not yet been decided.
Considering that middle linebacker is a crucial position filled until recently by veteran Hardy Nickerson, and that the Bucs face a critical game this Monday, this would seem like a scary opening assignment for a first-year player.
Webster, however, is loose, engaging the media in a humorous and upbeat give-and-take.
"I've got to just treat the ball as my food," said the former Miami Hurricane standout while chuckling. "Wherever the ball is, that's where I'm trying to be. I've got to eat, so wherever the ball is, I'm chasing that ball."
Webster was pressed to reveal whether he was just covering up his anticipation. He smiled again, thought about the question for a moment, then claimed to be in great spirits.
"Right now, the jitterbugs and the scary part and the fear in my heart is out for me," he said. "I guess by my mentality, and the position I play, you can't be scared out there. After those couple of plays I did get last week and in the preseason, I feel I'm ready. With the guidance of the Warren Sapps and the Derrick Brookses, you can't go wrong. It's kind of like being blessed to be out there with those guys…McFarland, the speed, the power. I just want to be a part of it."
Webster, however, does understand how quickly he has been pressed into this situation. Only last year he was watching the upstate NFL team in pewter and red on Sundays after his own Saturday battles in Miami. He knows what a thresher the Tampa Bay defense can be.
"I was one of the fans last year that new about this defense," said Webster. "Once I came, oh man, so many dreams and thoughts ran through my head…just being able to use the abilities that I was blessed with to join these fellas with the hard hitting and the running around and making plays. The fans screaming…I live for that. I'm just so grateful right now.
"The John Lynch hits, the Derrick Brooks tackles in the backfield, Warren just killing quarterbacks - you know how he is. Ronde Barber. You could just go around this defense naming guys that play Buc ball. Now I'm a Buc and I'm ready to play some Buc ball."
Maybe all of those playmakers around him have given him confidence. Or maybe, as he says, he simply doesn't know fear on the gridiron.
"Once you're out there on the field, you have to play ball like you know how to," said Webster. "If you don't, if you're scared, you're gonna get run over or run through. Ain't no fear in my heart. I just want to help the Bucs."