Joe Webb’s future with the Vikings has spurred quite a bit of discussion. Some want to see him gone, some want to see him sit on the bench and never start, some want to see him moved to WR or used in special plays made just for him, possibly a variant of the wildcat. Others want to see him given a chance to compete for the starting job. All of this discussion because Webb has been labeled as an “athletic” or “running” QB and this is the subject I would like to discuss. I’m not going to debate or say what type of QB he is, because that is yet to be defined. I’m also not going to debate or say whether or not he will be successful in the NFL because that also is yet to be defined. What I do want to discuss is what defines the labels passing, running, and athletic as it pertains to QBs and what Webb could be.
First off, all NFL players (Yes, even Punters and Kickers) are athletic. They have athletic ability so for the most basic of purposes, all QBs are athletic. However, what we are debating is a sub-definition of athletic. I’m going to present that being an athletic QB and a running QB are not the same.
First let’s evaluate the “passing” QB label. A passing QB would be a QB would use solely his arm and ability to read defenses to make plays. They scramble very little and normally only on designed plays, such as a play-action bootleg. They are your proverbial sitting ducks in the pocket. If they rush gets to them, they have very little means to escape it. Examples: Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Byron Leftwich, Brett Favre (2010), Dan Marino. This isn’t meant to say they can’t avoid the rush in any way because several of them are masters at taking small steps to avoid the pass rusher, but if someone is chasing them, they aren’t likely to get away and rarely will you see them run for a first down if it is more than 3 or 4 yards. It is safe to say, Webb is not this QB.
Second is the “running” QB. A running QB would make one, possibly two reads before attempting to make a play with his feet. They tend to look very skittish and uneasy in the pocket for prolonged periods of time and may throw on the run more than having their feet set. Examples: Early Michael Vick, Tavarvis Jackson, Vince Young (@ Texas and early in his career) and Pat White. Most of the these QBs had little success as a passer when they played their style. Vick ran for a ton of yards and won games in Atlanta but never had success in the playoffs. Tavarvis we don’t need to visit since we are all familiar with him. Young had success winning with the Titans early on but evolved into a better QB, capable of leading game winning drives later when he stayed in the pocket. Pat White, well, he’s playing baseball, enough said there. There is a chance that Webb could end up in this category, depending on his development and training.
Lastly is the “athletic” QB. This seems to be the new hybrid in the NFL. These QBs may not be as physically gifted as running QBs but they move around and run more than your passing QB. They go through their progression, allow routes to develop but if they encounter a heavy rush and can make the play with their feet and get the first down to extend the drive, they do. They may only do this 3-5 times a game but it happens at critical points. The difference, of course, is their desire to pass first. They look to make the play with their arm before taking off with their feet. Examples: Aaron Rodgers, Big Ben, Jay Cutler, Steve Young, Josh Freeman, Jeff Garcia. Rodgers and Big Ben are probably the best at it currently. They both consistent pick up first downs when they run and if the defense has cleared out an area by defending deep routes, they can pick up anywhere from 10 to 30 yards on one run. However, teams they play respect their ability to pass more than their ability to run. They stand tall in the pocket, waiting until the last moment to take off. Young would do the same thing. He was slightly more rectless about it, sustaining 7 concussions during his career. You may be able to put Vick into this category soon as well. He has shown progress in becoming a pocket passer but still took off quite a bit and ran. This is also a category Webb could end up fitting into.
This however seems to be the new hybrid some teams are looking for, a QB who can pass but also run when needed. It is also a hybrid that works. The NFL is getting faster and stronger. Pockets collapse very quickly and QBs are either forced to make quick throws while getting hit or to avoid getting hit. This leads to more interceptions and routes being shorter. Having a guy who can extend the play 1 or 2 seconds by scrammbling can be the difference between a 5 or 7 yards gain on 3rd and 8 or a TD pass downfield.
Now there has been a comparision drawn between Webb and Vick and I would like to present several pieces of information that would lead to the conclusion that Webb will develop differently than Vick.
First there is the height difference. Vick is listed at 6ft but most state he is slightly under that. Due to this and the fact Vick has a slight side arm delivery; he has more difficulty passing over the top of the O-line and D-line. To compensate, Vick normally takes a 7 step drop. By doing this, he moves out of the protection “pocket” the O-line creates. This leaves him open to outside blitz packages by CBs and LBs off the edge because he can’t step and throw over top the defenders. Webb is 6’4” thus eliminating a lot of this problem since he can stay in the pocket and still see the field.
Vick was also coached as a running QB. The Falcons made very little effort to keep him in the pocket, much to his detriment. He was allowed to run when blitzes came, as opposed to finding his hot read and making a big throw. This may have also been due to the fact taking a 7 step drop is too long in order to make the hot read. This was exposed by the Vikings this year. Vick didn’t know how to read the defense’s coverage scheme and pick out the blitz and Winfield pounded him all night, even getting the sack-strip-recovery-TD. Webb is being developed as a pocket passer. He took advice from Favre on how to read coverages asked for help and listened to his coaches on what the defense was doing. He is a student of the game.
Vick was the offense for the Falcons. The Falcons had Warrick Dunn but he isn’t nearly the same type of game changing back AD is. Vick also never truly had a No. 1 WR unless you count Michael Jenkins. Roddy White was drafted there but didn’t truly develop until Ryan showed up. Webb has AD in the backfield, Harvin and Rice, provided we resign him like we should and Shank. All the pressure would not be on Webb to make plays by any means necessary like Vick.
These points against Vick aren’t against him personal. It is meant to represent how criticial the coaching of a physically gifted QB like Vick and Webb is. College QBs are like clay when they enter the league, at least the good ones are. They need to be molded and shaped into the mold that best fits them. Webb can be the “athletic” QB, making plays with his arm, reading defenses and making the occasional play with his feet. The difference between Webb and other athletic QBs like Rodgers and Big Ben is the fact Webb can take off and outrun everyone on the field for a TD if the opportunity presents itself. That is a trait to be celebrated, not eliminated. QB coach Craig Johnson has done this with QBs. He helped McNair to a Co-MVP season and coached Young to stay in the pocket and be a QB first. The pieces are in place to help Webb become a legitimate QB or the pieces are in place to bring someone else in and compete with Webb for the starting spot.
The overall point is you don’t just take someone like Webb and discard him as a potential starting QB because he is physically gifted. Let’s improve the environment for the future QB of the Vikings, whoever he is, and during the mean time, let’s also develop Webb so maybe we end up with two viable options at QB if we draft someone else as well.