NFL: Webbster’s challenge: Stop Panthers’ Smith

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 18, 2008

By Tom Canavan
Associated Press
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. ó Cornerback Corey Webster got the big bucks from the New York Giants last week and now he could be facing one of the bigger assignments in the NFC showdown with the Carolina Panthers ó stopping Steve Smith.
Heading into Sunday night’s game at Giants Stadium, it is not known whether Webster will draw the head-to-head matchup with Smith, who leads the Panthers with 70 catches for 1,240 yards and six touchdowns.
New York (11-3) has kept Webster on the right side of the field and had fellow cornerback Aaron Ross on the left all season.
However, with the NFC’s No. 1 seed, a first-round bye and home-field advantage on the line, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo might designate Webster to cover Smith.
There is no doubt Webster is the Giants’ shutdown cornerback. He was designated to do that in the playoffs last season, and the Giants rewarded him for another outstanding season by signing him to a five-year contract extension that will pay him $43 million, including $20 million guaranteed.
While Webster refused to discuss strategy Thursday after practice, he admitted that he was looking forward to playing against Smith.
“I know I am going to be up for it. I know he is up for it every weekend. It’s a great opportunity to show what we can do,” Webster said.
Webster doesn’t have gaudy statistics. His three interceptions are tied with Ross for the team lead; his 48 tackles are near the bottom for the defensive starters.
What should be noted, though, is that opposing quarterbacks have not thrown much in his direction, and when they do he has been batting them away. He leads the team with 22 passes defended, 14 more than his next closest teammate, Ross.
Webster said that watching Smith on videotape was everything he expected.
“He is one of the best, if not the best, at the position,” Webster said. “He is an explosive receiver that can change the game at any time. He is a game breaker. You have to be cognizant of him, keep him in front of you and not give up the big play.”
When Smith is not catching the ball, he is just as dangerous on the end-around or as a downfield blocker for DeAngelo Williams.
Coincidentally, one the first big plays that Webster made as a Giants rookie came against Smith in a preseason game in 2005.
Jake Delhomme connected with Smith on a 6-yard pass in the second quarter of the game at Giants Stadium, and Webster ripped the ball out of the hands of the Panthers receiver and returned it 11 yards.
“I remember that,” Webster said with a smile.
When asked what Smith thought of the play, Webster smiled again. “You’ll have to ask him.”
Webster is also familiar with Delhomme. As a high school student, he attended one of the Manning passing camps where Delhomme was an instructor. Webster was a quarterback at the time, playing at St. James High School in Vacherie, La.
“I’m a little bit older than him, but yeah, Corey would go to the Manning Passing Academy,” Delhomme recalled.
The quarterback is still impressed.
“He has very good ball skills,” Delhomme added. “That is something that any good cornerback has to have, ball skills. And Corey, when he was at LSU ó watching him ó he had fantastic ball skills. And certainly I don’t think he has lost that.”