Tuesday, February 21, 2012

What to do with Joe Webb?

Last week I penned a guest post for the Vikings Territory blog on the Vikes stadium saga. Today, Adam Warwas, the brains behind one of the best Vikings blogs out there (and the slickest Vikes blog website out there), has returned the favor. Earlier this week I asked Adam to write something on one of my favorite topics – quarterback Joe Webb – and in no time, he was able to whip something up. What follows is Adam's take on what should be done to make the best use of Webb's obvious athletic gifts – something the Vikings coaching staff is still struggling with.

No Average Joe
There are decades and decades of evidence that support the theory that a backup quarterback becomes the most popular person residing in an NFL city once that team begins to struggle. It can also be argued that the backup quarterback is the second most important position on an NFL roster.

The Vikings have a backup quarterback.

For over 12 months now the Vikings have tried to find a role for 2010 sixth-round pick Joe Webb out of the University of Alabama-Birmingham. In college he was primarily a quarterback but spent some time at receiver. The Vikings drafted him with the receiver position in mind, but Webb got a chance at quarterback after his first OTAs included an impressive throwing session and/or a terrible showing of hands, depending on which reports you believe.

The Vikings, seldom admitting that Webb is their best option as a starting quarterback, have used him in a variety of ways that range from receiver to “Blazer” quarterback to kick returner. In each role, Webb has displayed some truly elite athleticism that has both led to productive outings and also masked some serious flaws.

In week 16 of the 2011 season, Webb entered the game for an injured Christian Ponder, leading the Vikings to victory over Washington with a great display of his quarterback skills. He had a perfect quarterback rating after hitting on four of five passes – two of which were for touchdowns – for 80 yards. He also ran for 34 yards on five carries and scored another touchdown.

The following week, however, Chicago had all the answers for Webb and the depleted Vikings offense. He averaged only half a yard per carry, threw two interceptions, completed only 17 of his 32 passing attempts, and didn’t score once through the air or on the ground.

Even with the inconsistencies, however, it is tough not to like Webb and cheer for him. He is exciting to watch, is a nightmare for opposing coordinators, and is a true NFL underdog storyline.

So, with two years under his belt, what exactly should the Vikings do with Joe Webb now?

First, I think the Vikings should scrap the idea of Webb being a wideout. He has had almost zero production at that position and he recently reiterated that his “heart” is at the quarterback position. Heart is an important part of success on the gridiron, so the Vikings coaches should take those comments at face value.

Second, they need to give him a legitimate chance to learn the quarterback position. Think about it, in 2010 Webb was drafted as a wideout and the transition to quarterback didn’t happen until later in the offseason. Then in 2011, the lockout prevented him from getting offseason reps at the position. Webb has not had a full offseason to prepare to play quarterback. I think he has earned the right to do exactly that this year.

Finally, I think the team needs to narrow his focus. Sure, the Blazer package might be more successful if the offense as a whole gets more talented, but those plays should only be included on a weekly basis if Webb is 100 per cent comfortable with his role as the number two quarterback. Furthermore, they should throw the possibility of returning kicks out the window, as they will have plenty of rookies to compete for that job with Percy Harvin.

And that is what it boils down to. Letting Webb settle into the backup quarterback position should not only let him hone his skills, but it should also push Christian Ponder, with Ponder knowing that a real fan favorite is sitting right behind him. And who knows, maybe Webb pushes Ponder hard enough that he finds himself in a true competition for the starting gig.

Webb’s athleticism makes him one of the most dangerous change-ups in the NFL, as we have seen on numerous occasions, and for now that is where his true value lies.


Anonymous said...

Greater article. I've been saying the exact same things for quite some time. I've never seen an athlete that has attracted the stupid comments that Webb has. I've heard, "haha the Vikings have a receiver playing quarterback," to "the Vikings need more of a pure pocket passer". I think both QB's would look better with an improved offensive line. Neither quarterback had a chance against Chicago. Improve the offensive line and let's have a fair competition. Great read. You nailed it.

Darren Campbell said...

Anon 12:24:

Adam Warwas nailed it for you. I think Webb has to concentrate on being a quarterback, too. I still think Ponder will be the better player. But it's only positive if both of them turn out to be good QBs, as that makes one of them great trade bait.