When you look up and down the starting defense for the Denver Broncos, you come across marquee names such as Champ Bailey, Dre Bly, Simeon Rice, and John Lynch. And that's not even mentioning the linebackers, which include big names like Ian Gold, DJ Williams, and ... Nate Webster?
Originally drafted in the third round of the 2000 draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Webster spent the first four years of his NFL career contributing in the kicking game (29 special teams tackles for his career) until signing with the Cincinnati Bengals before the 2004 season. He spent the bulk of 2004 on injured reserve and didn't record a tackle in the 2005 season. He was signed as a free agent by Denver on May 2, 2006.
This season marks his first as a starter. He has already recorded more tackles in three games (13) so far in 2007 than he did in all of 2005 and 2006.
While he possesses less-than-ideal size (6-foot tall, 232 pounds) to play the Sam linebacker position in Jim Bates' defense, he has a tenacity, motor, and tackling ability that make him an asset. No doubt due to his time on special teams, he plays with reckless abandon and always seems to be in ardent pursuit of the ball-carrier.
However, guts, attitude and effort can only get you so far in this league. And the old adage that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link seems to apply here.
Nate Webster goes after Ronald Curry
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Playing the strong side of the formation, it will be Webster's duty to cover (or, at least attempt to slow down) Colts tight end Dallas Clark this Sunday. In his eight seasons, Webster has six passes defensed and zero interceptions. It's true that Webster has not been a starter for almost his entire career, but it's also true that even a broken clock is right twice a day (four times if it has a second hand). Starting three games this season and playing situational football in Tampa for all those years didn't seem to help him accumulate even a modest set of pass defense statistics.
At the risk of beating a dead horse, here it is in black and white: The man's coverage skills are sorely lacking. Peyton Manning and the Colts offense need to attack Webster early and often by throwing the ball in the intermediate-middle area of the field -- over the linebacker and in front of the safety. The best possible matchup is already set by default. Webster will draw Clark and Indianapolis needs to punish Denver as much as it can for allowing this mismatch.
But, before we get ahead of ourselves, there is definitely some bad news in this equation: Webster has the tackling skills and the instincts to get to the running back. He is also on Champ Bailey and John Lynch's side of the field.
Although the Colts have a rookie left tackle on the other side, they will experience the most success (by an order of magnitude) by throwing right to Clark and running left behind Tony Ugoh and Ryan Lilja.
A scheme can only cover up so many of a player's warts or play to so many of a player's strengths. After that, it comes down to execution. The big question on Sunday will be whether or not Manning and the Colts' offense are able to expose the warts that are there in the passing game and stay away from the strong side of the defense in the running game.