Minnesota Vikings: Rookie Webb to get first startTeam and fans are anxious to see if former Alabama-Birmingham player can be team's quarterback of the future
By: Judd Zulgad, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
MINNEAPOLIS — Joe Webb has spent each week this year preparing as if he would be the Minnesota Vikings’ starting quarterback. But for the first 13 games of his rookie season, Webb went through the exercise knowing he had no shot of being under center.
That will change Monday night when the raw rookie will make his first start in what will be only the third game in which he has been active. It’s a less-than-ideal situation — the opportunity only comes because of injuries to Brett Favre and Tarvaris Jackson — but don’t tell that to a guy who seems to have embraced just being in the NFL from the day he arrived in April as a sixth-round pick out of Alabama-Birmingham.
“All year long I’ve been around Brett and Tarvaris,” Webb said. “Those are great guys who study the game and they showed me a lot of things. Now that the time has come I can put everything that I’ve learned to work.”
Given the Vikings’ uncertainty at quarterback for the future, many will be curious to see the results.
The 41-year-old Favre has an injury to his throwing arm that ended his NFL-record streak of consecutive starts, and he has said this will be his final season. Jackson has been placed on injured reserve after suffering a toe injury last Monday against the Giants and could become an unrestricted free agent depending on what happens once a new collective bargaining agreement is reached.
A real handyman
Even Webb is surrounded by question marks, considering the college quarterback was drafted with the intention he would be moved to receiver based on his athletic ability. He had worked out at the Senior Bowl as a wide receiver.
The Vikings didn’t follow through with their plan to move him only because coach Brad Childress was so impressed with Webb’s arm strength. It didn’t hurt that Webb’s hand measured 10 inches, giving him excellent control of the ball. Childress, of course, is now long gone and the Vikings aren’t set on who their coach will be or what the structure of their football operations will look like in 2011.
That could leave the 24-year-old Webb with a one-time opportunity to make a lasting impression — in a game played in the cold (Webb said he once played in 40-degree temperatures) against a Bears defense is that ranked eighth in the NFL.
“I’m just going to go out there and have fun. No pressure,” Webb said. “Nothing on my mind. Just go out there and play football.”
When it was pointed out that is easy to say but not so easy to do, Webb didn’t hesitate. “You just don’t put it like that because you’ll put too much pressure on yourself and that will force you not to play ball,” he said. “You just go out there and say, ‘Hey, this is just another game. I love the game, the fun of the game.’”
After being the Vikings’ third quarterback for the first 11 games, essentially meaning he was inactive, Webb saw limited action two weeks ago against Buffalo before suffering a hamstring injury. He never did take a snap but returned the opening kickoff. Webb made his debut at quarterback against the Giants, replacing a hobbled Jackson three different times and completing two of five passes for 8 yards.
Webb, 6-4 and 220 pounds, also has gotten very limited work in practice this season, having run the scout team most of the time. He did get the first-team reps this past week ahead of Patrick Ramsey, who was signed Thursday.
“There’s not a wide range of resume when it comes to Joe Webb as an NFL quarterback,” Frazier said. “We’re going off of what we’ve seen in practice and what we saw a week ago. But we’re confident he’s going to play well and we’re confident the guys around him will play well as well.”
The Vikings got a glimpse of Webb’s athletic ability in the preseason when he took off on a scramble in the fourth quarter on Aug. 22 at San Francisco and went 48 yards for a touchdown. That play almost certainly helped Webb stick on the 53-man roster; the run didn’t come as a surprise to anyone who had seen Webb in college.
He earned Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year honors and led the NCAA in rushing yards by a quarterback with 1,427 as a senior. That was his second year as the team’s starting QB after he had played receiver during his sophomore season.
Webb also became the first player in NCAA history to pass for 2,000-plus yards and rush for more than 1,000 in back-to-back seasons, in 2008 and ’09.
Alabama-Birmingham coach Neil Callaway knows Webb will have growing pains playing quarterback in the NFL, but he said ability is not an issue.
“Being in a pro-style offense he’s got some things to learn as far as being a drop-back passer,” Callaway said. “But as far as arm strength, he can throw it as good as anybody I’ve ever seen. I’m just happy for Joe to get this opportunity, period, because he can definitely play at that level whether it be at quarterback or wide receiver. Whatever it is. Joe’s off the chart as far as athleticism. He can run, jump, throw, catch. He can do it all so I think he’s got a tremendous upside.”
Webb, a good-natured guy whom Callaway calls someone “who does things the right way,” doesn’t seem particularly troubled by the fact that he could end up at wide receiver next season, stressing that ultimately he wants to do what’s best for the team.
“I really like his attitude,” Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “He’s got great confidence in himself and great confidence in his ability. He’s kind of an unflappable guy. He does come across like he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know; kind of what he’s getting himself into. He really does believe in his ability and that he can make plays on the field. As long as he’s working within the offense, who else cannot believe him?
“He oozes that confidence. Like I said, the guys feed off of it.”
Bevell, and the Vikings, can only hope that will continue Monday night.