Tip Sheet: Joe Webb a QB once again
Vikings rookie relearning college position after being drafted as a wide receiver
Pedaling down the street and backpedaling in the pocket are certainly not activities that should ever be confused.
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"It's hard, but I'm relying on things being like second nature, so it hasn't really been that much of a problem yet," said Webb of his unexpected foray into playing quarterback for a team that ostensibly drafted him to be a wide receiver. "You just fall back on things that you've done in the past and lean more on [muscle memory]."
A sixth-round draft choice and the 199th player selected overall in April, Webb played quarterback at Alabama-Birmingham, switched to wide receiver for the Senior Bowl and devoted most of the spring to mastering the position to which he was projected by most NFL scouts. Suddenly, he was moved back to his old college spot by the Minnesota coaching staff last month.
What might have begun as a lark -- Vikings coaches casually asked him to show off his arm on the final day of a minicamp -- has become a full-time exercise.
Making the switch
Instead of learning to catch the ball, Webb is throwing it again. In fact, he has not practiced at all at wide receiver in recent weeks and will spend the time between now and the beginning of training camp working with friends at UAB on his quarterback mechanics. He will report to summer drills at Mankato, Minn., as a signal-caller.
"He has an aptitude to be a quarterback. He knows what he's doing," coach Brad Childress said to the Twin Cities-area media of the unanticipated move. "We're going to get him immersed [at quarterback] in the system."
At UAB, Webb became the first quarterback in NCAA history to throw for 2,000 yards and run for 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons (2008 and 2009). His 1,417 yards rushing in 2008 are the third-most ever for a college quarterback. In his college career, he completed 468 of 892 passes for 5,771 yards, 37 touchdowns and 25 interceptions. He ran 516 times for 2,774 yards and 24 scores. And he was good enough last season to be chosen as the Conference USA Player of the Year.
Those accomplishments aside, the consensus among NFL talent evaluators was that Webb -- who played some wide receiver as a sophomore, catching 30 passes for 459 yards and three touchdowns that year -- was probably better suited to wideout in the pros. He worked at wide receiver in Senior Bowl practices and in the game as well.
Webb reinforced the notion he had receiver-caliber tools at his pro day, when he was timed at 4.44 in the 40-yard dash, registered a 42½-inch vertical jump and a broad jump of 11 feet, 5 inches and measured at 6-feet-3 and 223 pounds. There is also a compelling YouTube video of Webb effortlessly leaping over tackling-style dummies stacked seven high while in training for the combine.
Those numbers demonstrate that Webb, 23, is a superb all-around athlete. UAB coach Neil Callaway, who was on the Auburn staff when Bo Jackson played there, conceded Webb isn't quite the equal of the 1985 Heisman Trophy winner but suggested he is "in the same league" physically. The Minnesota staff saw enough potential in him this spring to decide, at least temporarily, that he could play quarterback.
The move doesn't appear to be a frivolous experiment or one aimed at making Webb a Wildcat offense novelty.
"They've told me to work on my [quarterback] skills," Webb said earlier this week. "It's not like I'm going to work a play or a series at quarterback, then move to wide receiver for a few snaps. This is my position; it's my job."
It remains to be seen if Webb is really a quarterback with NFL skills and just how long Minnesota keeps him at the position. But at minicamp last week, he received more snaps in the 11-on-11 drills than nine-year veteran Sage Rosenfels, acquired in a trade from Houston last spring and nominally the club's No. 3 quarterback.
Assuming Brett Favre returns for another season and Tarvaris Jackson remains his primary backup, Webb could battle for the third spot. Or, as was the original game plan when the club drafted him, Webb could return to wide receiver.
If the latter occurs, Webb will accept it. But for now he has taken on the challenge of relearning a position he felt was part of his football past.
"The hardest thing is learning the language and the terminology, but that would still be the hardest part, even if I was playing [wide receiver]," Webb said. "Mentally, I've gone from talking myself into playing receiver into trying to be a quarterback again and that's taken some time. After all, I pretty much spent the entire spring kind of leaving quarterback behind, and learning to play receiver.
"But I feel like I've got great leadership skills, that I can take good command of the huddle as a quarterback and I'm putting those things to good use now."
Len Pasquarelli, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.