EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Jan. 5, 2013 will be remembered by the Minnesota Vikings because of their disappointing playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers. Joe Webb, who was called on to start at quarterback after Christian Ponder was unable to play, might need to remember it as the day his NFL career was changed.
Webb, the quarterback turned receiver turned quarterback again, went 11 of 30 for 180 yards passing, a touchdown and an interception in the 24-10 loss at Green Bay, his only start of the 2012 season. Minnesota’s reaction was going and signing veteran backup Matt Cassel to backup Ponder next season. Webb, who has always thrilled with his athleticism, is moving back, again, to receiver.
“I never give up on quarterback until Coach told me what’s the plan they have for me, so I’m just going with it,” Webb said last week at Vikings’ organized team activities of the team’s decision to move him to receiver. “I’m all for the team. Whatever helps the team. I want to get a Super Bowl just like everyone else, and I think Minnesota is a good fit. And I’m going to continue to work hard and help bring a championship to the city.”
Webb, 26, was drafted by the Vikings to be a receiver. He was a sixth-round pick out of Alabama-Birmingham in 2010 after a collegiate career in which he was the first player in NCAA history to pass for 2,000-plus yards and run for 1,000-plus yards in back-to-back seasons. The starting quarterback as a junior and senior, he played receiver his sophomore season.
Then-Minnesota coach Brad Childress brought in Webb as a receiver, but was enamored with his potential as a quarterback after seeing him throw during his first summer with the Vikings as a rookie. Webb has spent three mainly developmental seasons as a quarterback since, occasionally being sprinkled in as a receiver to little success or consistency.
With Cassel on board, the experiment with Webb at quarterback is over. He is a receiver and there is likely no going back now.
“I think looking at our current quarterback situation and the type of offense that we run,” coach Leslie Frazier said of why he moved Webb to receiver, “there are some things that Joe does very well. We’ve seen him put on a highlight show in some ballgames when he’s gotten in games. One of his strengths is the ball being in his hands and carrying the football. The way our offense is constructed doesn’t lend itself to being that type of player only. We wanted to be able to get him on the field, rather than on Sundays, standing on the sideline with me as the third quarterback or not dressed, with the addition of Matt and of course Christian being our starter.
“This is a way to utilize his gifts, so we want to take a look at it. To his credit, his attitude was great when I broached the subject with him. He handled it well.”
Webb, who has one career catch for 9 yards, feels his experience at quarterback helps him with the move. He knows the importance of his work this summer after making the switch about a month ago. He’s impressed coaches early in the transition and is starting to feel comfortable again working on the outside.
Receivers coach George Stewart said Webb’s progress will be evaluated differently from the other receivers as he transitions, but Stewart believes Webb has the tools to succeed at his new position.
“His body of football is there because he knows everything from the quarterback standpoint,” Stewart said. “It’s just being a receiver; getting off the football, using his hands, running the route, getting the depth, getting out of a break. Those things are things, but in terms of catching the football, I know that was the thing, ‘He can’t catch.’ Joe can catch the football. It’s just that the other things have to rhythm up with catching and any time you make a position move like that, there’s going to be some rough edges and it’s my job to kind of smooth them out. But Joe’s an extremely hard worker, so I’m quite sure he’ll overcome all the obstacles.”
The physical gifts and standout athleticism has always been there for Webb. With his knowledge of the offense and a strong set of hands, the biggest adjustment for Webb is route-running. His teammates have been him impressed with his hands and feel he’ll grasp the other necessary techniques.
“His mindset is to be a perfectionist,” receiver Greg Jennings said. “So everything that he does, he wants to be perfect at it, which is the mindset that you have to have at that position. But he has great hands, has huge hands, he catches the ball with his hands. When a receiver can catch, you can work with everything else. If you can catch the ball, I can work with any and everything else. If you can’t catch the ball, then we really have no ground to start from. We have no foundation to start from.”
His teammates, including MVP Adrian Peterson, have taken note of Webb’s attitude in making the transition and being unselfish to help the team. Webb, really, didn’t know any other way. He just wants to play and said he had no concerns about the switch.
“You know, I just like football,” Webb said. “I have a passion for the game. I’ve been playing it since I was a little kid. It’s a blessing to be out here on the field. Some guys graduate from college and don’t get a chance to come out here on an NFL field. I’m just happy for the moment and just trying to take advantage of it.”