If you thought the pun fest that started when the Minnesota Vikings chose Christian Ponder 12th overall in the 2011 NFL draft had wound down and gotten dull, then you're probably enjoying the rise in puns that Joe Webb's fascinating offensive rally on Sunday has spawned. The St. Paul Pioneer Press sported headlines "Say it ain't Joe?" on Monday and "Tangled Webb" on Tuesday. Personally, I thought they missed out on a good musical spoof with "Hey Joe, what ya doin' with that ball in your hand?"
All puns aside, Joe Webb's performance on Sunday against the Detroit Lions is a reminder that, before the draft, many of us wondered whether Webb didn't have a future in the NFL after all. Coming into the game after rookie Christian Ponder was benched in the third quarter, Webb marched the Vikings' offense down the field for two scoring drives and a third drive that brought the Vikings back to the red zone before the Lions broke up a 1st and goal play in the last nine seconds of the game to seal their win.
Last season, there was a rumor that Brett Favre told the Vikings' coaching staff Joe Webb was such an incredible athlete that they needed to find a way to get him on the field--it didn't matter how, just get the kid on the field. And, they did. Well, okay, it wasn't so much that the coaching staff found a way to incorporate Webb into the offense so much as the fact that he was the last quarterback standing after both Favre and Tavaris Jackson were unable to play because of injuries. Webb started a couple games at the end of the Vikings' bizarre 2010 season, including an upset victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on a snowy Tuesday night in Philadelphia. In the Philadelphia game, Webb's first NFL start, he threw for 195 yards and ran for a touchdown in the 24-14 win. Apparently, "Pops" (Webb's nickname for Favre) knew what he was talking about.
More after the jump. And, study the picture because we're having another caption contest.
During the 2011 draft, the Vikings drafted Christian Ponder, making it clear that they felt Ponder would be the franchise's quarterback of the future and, despite the rash of 10 turnovers in the past four games, there are good reasons why Ponder is still the team's future. Ponder hasn't won any more games for the Vikings than the departed Donovan McNabb did, but, even with the deficiencies in the receiving corps, Ponder has shown promise. And somewhere in the midst of these quarterback moves, Joe Webb looked as if he was, more or less, forgotten.
But after Webb's 193-yard, two-touchdown effort to rally the Vikings Sunday in Detroit, Vikings fans were reminded of why we liked Webb so much at the end of 2010. The Vikings seem to have been reminded as well because Coach Leslie Frazier was quoted in the Pioneer Press saying, "We need all of our playmakers on the field that we can get. We have some packages that we use sporadically. Maybe we have to go a little bit deeper with those packages."
But how can the struggling Vikings offense best make use of Joe Webb?
The problem of narrowing down how to use Joe Webb's tremendous athletic talent on the football field isn't a new one. It's been with him since college where he played as both a wide receiver and a quarterback. In 2009, Webb set an FBS record, passing for 2,000 yards and rushing for 1,427 yards at UAB. However, Webb was not invited to the 2010 NFL combine, instead working out as a wide receiver at the UAB Pro Day where he posted numbers impressive enough that the Vikings drafted him as a wide receiver in the sixth-round of the 2010 NFL draft, 199th overall. During the Vikings' 2010 training camp, then-coach Brad Childress made the decision to switch Webb to quarterback, giving the rookie a chance to learn from veteran quarterback Brett Favre.
It seemed unlikely that Webb would take the field in 2010 as a Vikings quarterback, but as injuries took their toll on both Brett Favre and Tavaris Jackson, the 6'4" 220lb rookie out of Alabama took the field and intrigued fans and coaches alike with his athletic performance. Webb completed 54 passes on 89 attempts in 2010, keeping plays alive with his legs and pulling down the ball to rush for yards when he needed to, somehow managing to look as calm behind the Vikings' porous offensive line as a Zen master on a relaxing vacation.
With the Vikings decision to draft Ponder in 2011 and the departure of wide receiver Sidney Rice in free-agency, many here at DN have wondered if the Vikings might not move Webb back to wide-receiver. But that hasn't happened, and Sunday in Detroit Webb displayed that calm demeanor and athletic ability that makes us collectively wonder why he hasn't been more involved in the Vikings' struggling 2011 offense before now. With the exception of a few attempts at a "blazer" package created to showcase Webb, he hadn't found his way onto the field much this season, well, not until Sunday.
There were times during Sunday's game when it felt like I was watching a horror movie, Lions' defenders were charging toward an apparently oblivious Webb and I found myself shouting, "Run! Joe, he's right behind you." But, without seeming to notice the defender barreling toward him, Webb stepped out of his path and evaded several pursuits that I thought would have crunched him. And as he scrambled and ambled around the pocket, the Lions' coverage suffered, occasionally breaking down completely as they tried to figure out what the heck Webb was going to do. Would he throw it? Would he run? Webb did both, and he did it to a defense that faced him last season but, despite that, the Lions didn't seem to know how to adjust to stop him. That Webb, a guy so calm I have to wonder if he has adrenal glands, was the shot of adrenaline the Vikings offense needed to rally a comeback that gave them a chance to win right up to the final seconds of the game, left a lot of Vikings fans shaking their heads in amazement. We might not know what he is, but Webb is fun to watch.
So what does that mean for Joe Webb? Will the Vikings incorporate him more in the offense, building more "Webbcat" plays to better utilize his abilities? Will they feature Webb in an effort to make him trade bait? Will they use him for a change of pace during the remaining games of the season?
Deuced if I know. But Vikings fans will have to hope that the Vikings can figure that out. Joe Webb might not fit the current mold for NFL quarterbacks, but it's hard to deny that Webb has a way of making things happen and the Vikings' offense is in need of that ability. Fingers-crossed, the Vikings will find a way to do that.
As promised, we're having another caption contest. Study this image of Joe Webb and then wow me and the rest of the DN writers with your pithy humor and witty observations. Remember, we really need a laugh. The submission deadline will be 11pm Wednesday night and the winning caption will be announced on, eh, Thursday or Friday.