When the Minnesota Vikings drafted Joe Webb in the sixth round of the 2010 NFL Draft, the team was planning to utilize his physical ability at the wide receiver position. However, during rookie minicamp, Webb was throwing the football around and caught the eye of the Vikings coaching staff. By the end of training camp, Webb had solidified his spot as the Minnesota Vikings’ third quarterback behind Brett Favre and Tarvaris Jackson.
There is no question that Webb is a rare athletic talent.
Webb’s college coach at UAB, Neil Callaway, who also coached Bo Jackson—arguably the best athlete of all time—while at Auburn, even went so far as to say that Webb is athletically “in the same league” as Jackson. However, there are still many questions about Webb’s ability to handle the mental part of being an NFL quarterback.
In Week 16, Webb showed a glimpse of what he is capable of. Filling in for an injured Brett Favre, Webb got his first NFL start as a quarterback, leading the Vikings to a 24-14 upset on the road over the red-hot Philadelphia Eagles on national television. Of course, Fred Pagac and the Vikings defense played a huge part in the victory, but Webb, who had very minimal preparation before being thrown into the fire, played with impressive composure, command and confidence.
After the Vikings defeated the Eagles, who were still fighting for home-field advantage in the playoffs, Percy Harvin talked about Webb’s performance.
“You kind of knew he was focused in,” Harvin told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “He handled himself like a veteran during the game. In the huddle, you could tell he was commanding everybody, getting the linemen straight and letting everybody know he was going to change the snap count. I can’t sit here and say I expect it to be that way.”
Cool, calm and collected, Joe Webb became only the second Vikings rookie quarterback in franchise history to win his first career start. The other was Ron Vander Kelen in 1963.
This April, the Vikings added another quarterback to the mix: Christian Ponder. Many believe that Ponder, who was taken with the 12th overall pick in the draft, will be handed the reigns when the Vikings open their season on September 11 against the San Diego Chargers. However, Leslie Frazier has stated—whether or not he really meant it—that there will be an open competition at the quarterback position.
Earlier this spring, Webb and Ponder spent a month at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, digesting Bill Musgrave’s new offense while training with quarterback coach Chris Weinke. Although Webb and Ponder will be competing with each other for the starting job, they got along just fine. In a Fox Sports Interview, Webb was asked for his assessment of Ponder:
“Great all-around guy. Great all-around tools. Great athlete. He can toss the ball very well. Very smart guy. There is nothing you can pick that’s wrong with Christian. He’s a great all-around guy.”
According to Scout.com, the camaraderie between Webb and Ponder was almost instantaneous. Between lifting weights, studying film and working on the field, there were plenty of chest bumps to go around. The two young quarterbacks even guarded each other during a pickup game of football (using a tennis ball) in the pool. In an interview with the Star Tribune, Webb shared his thoughts on befriending the competition:
“You can build that chemistry and the relationship. No matter who wins the job, both of us are going to need one another during the season. If I win the job, he’ll be on the sideline looking at things. If he wins the job, then I’ll be looking at the defenses. No matter what, it’s good for us to be down here working together and getting in the playbook together.”
Although none of the Vikings big guns made it to the unofficial minicamp held at IMG Academy, a few other players were able to attend: Rhett Bomar (QB), Kyle Rudolph (TE), Greg Camarillo (WR), Emmanuel Arceneaux (WR), Mistral Raymond (S) and Brandon Fusco (C).
Since training with Weinke, Ponder and company, Webb has spent the last few weeks with Brett Favre in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, working to improve his passing game. Favre, who was reluctant to take on a mentoring role while playing for the Green Bay Packers, seems to be intrigued by Webb’s off the charts potential.
Before Webb made his first NFL start as a quarterback against the Eagles in Week 16, Favre shared his thoughts with the Birmingham News:
“I’m probably like most people. I’m excited to see (Webb). I love his attitude, his personality. There’s no doubt the guy is as talented as they come…he’s got the right mentality and guys love him.”
It’s easy to become enamored with Webb’s style and grace on the football field, but it’s not his physical stature, 42.5″ vertical leap, 4.43 second 40-yard dash time or powerful arm that is most impressive. It’s his demeanor, poise under pressure, confidence and work ethic.
He seems to have the “it” factor and plenty of swagger, but only time will tell if he can develop his passing game enough to become a true franchise quarterback.
With the lockout drawing to a close, training camp is right around the corner, and the two young quarterbacks will be engaged in a battle for the Vikings starting job. Ponder is the clear favorite to win the job, but Webb has already shown the world that he is capable of pulling off a major upset.
Either way, we will probably be seeing much more of Webb on the field this season. The Vikings new offensive coordinator, Bill Musgrave, will likely have a special package designed to take advantage of Webb’s athleticism.
After all, it’s hard to leave a young man (Joe Webb) with that much ability standing on the sidelines holding a clipboard.
Follow me on twitter @KellyMangin.