EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Vikings have tried unsuccessfully to turn Joe Webb’s elite athleticism into reliable NFL productivity and time is running out.
Entering the fourth and final year of his rookie contract, Webb’s last chance to be part of the team’s future has arrived as a wide receiver. He was switched from quarterback this spring after veteran Matt Cassel was signed to be Christian Ponder’s backup.
Webb figured the move might be coming.
“Ah, you never know the plan with me, man. Coming out of high school, recruiting guys wanted me to play receiver, quarterback, safety, so I just go with the flow,” said Webb, who was drafted by the Vikings in the sixth round in 2010 out of Alabama-Birmingham.
The Vikings saw little purpose in keeping a player with exceptional breakaway speed and leaping ability as a third-string quarterback with questionable accuracy. So they’re hoping Webb can now find his niche at a position he’s played some in the past. The Vikings even had the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Webb working as a downfield coverage man on the punt team in practice this week.
“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,” Webb said.
The Vikings have toyed with him previously as a kickoff returner. He was occasionally sent in to run the ball out of the wildcat formation, a move that rarely worked for offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave. Despite some success in relief of Ponder in 2011, Webb sputtered through the playoff loss at Green Bay in January when Ponder couldn’t play. That showed the Vikings, their fans and the rest of the NFL that Webb’s career path is not as a quarterback.
He has lined up at wide receiver before, with one regular-season reception to show for it. Webb also saw some time there at UAB. The Vikings considered that after he was drafted but decided instead to put him exclusively behind center.
“It would be unfair to evaluate him as a receiver like I evaluate the rest of them because they’ve been receivers all their lives. Joe’s been a quarterback,” wide receivers coach George Stewart said. “It’s kind of like me trying to be a chef. It’s not going to work. I’ve got to burn some stuff up. But Joe’s going to help us.”
Coach Leslie Frazier wasn’t as hesitant to offer his analysis.
“He has very good hands. He knows the offense very well. He’s actually helping some of the young guys in where to line up at,” Frazier said.
The key for Webb will be to hone his route-running ability — and do it quickly in training camp to give the Vikings a reason to give him a precious roster spot. This is one of the team’s weakest positions, but behind Greg Jennings, Jerome Simpson, Cordarrelle Patterson and Jarius Wright, there isn’t much room left.
“Knowing how hard he works and knowing how much he wants to succeed as a receiver, he’ll have a very good chance of getting that done,” Frazier said.
Whether or not Webb lasts much longer in the league, the Vikings have been nothing but impressed by his down-home Alabama attitude and his relentless work ethic.
“There are guys with lesser talent that would be stomping their feet and complaining, but Joe is all about the team and that’s one of the reasons the players have always rallied around him,” Frazier said, recalling the way players gravitated toward Webb even when he was a rookie: “I couldn’t understand it, and as time went on I realized he’s just one of those guys you pull for.”
Webb doesn’t mind the support but isn’t out for sympathy. He’s still trying to establish this one-of-a-kind career.
“I just like football. 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,” Webb said. “I’m just happy for the moment and just trying to take advantage of it.”
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