At 6′ 4″ and 220 pounds, Joe Webb is an inch taller and 15 pounds heavier than first round rookie Cordarrelle Patterson. In fact, outside of long shots Rodney Smith and Chris Summers, Webb is the biggest wideout on the roster. Both Webb and Patterson are considered raw, each potentially having the “project” label applied to them at Winter Park, and both could be competing for the same reps heading into 2013.
After failing miserably to get the Vikings a playoff victory last season, the Vikings have moved Webb to wideout, but the depth chart is suddenly very crowded. Greg Jennings, when healthy, is sure to occupy a starters position considering his talent, experience, and the investment made to put him in purple. Jerome Simpson and Jarius Wright both have more experience than the young pair and seem to be locks to eat up roster spots heading into this season. Stephen Burton is someone the Vikings haven’t given up on yet and Greg Childs could throw a wrinkle into things if he is deemed healthy enough to contribute in the preseason.
As of today, the Vikings have 12 wideouts on the roster, and it is safe to say that total will be cut in half by the time the regular season rolls around. Jennings, Simpson, Wright, and Patterson will surely eat up four of those spots leaving Webb to compete for one or two of the possible spots that would remain.
Last season, when Webb was made to be the backup quarterback only, reports surfaced from beat writers that he was having trouble catching the ball and running routes in practice. According to multiple reports from this week’s sessions that were open to the media, however, Webb displayed excellent hands and was consistently snatching the ball with the proper away-from-the-body technique. According to Kevin Seifert, he even was helping rookies learn where they were supposed to line up, suggesting he has a solid grasp of the playbook at this point.
“He has very good hands. He knows the offense very well. He’s actually helping some of the young guys in where to line up at,” Leslie Frazier said of Webb. “Knowing how hard he works and knowing how much he wants to succeed as a receiver, he’ll have a very good chance of getting that done.”
Webb recently talked about how often he has had to change positions throughout his football career, including in high school and college, but he isn’t looking for any sort of sympathy.
“I just like football. I have a passion for the game. I’ve been playing it since I was a little kid. It’s a blessing to be out here on the field. Some guys graduate from college and don’t get a chance to come out here on an NFL field,” Webb said. “I’m just happy for the moment and just trying to take advantage of it.”
Patterson has already laid claim to one of the areas where Webb could potentially help the Vikings, as he has been named the go-to kick returner, and the nature of the NFL business means Patterson is likely to enjoy more chances to succeed at wideout than Webb because of where they were drafted. Webb and Patterson, and Jarius Wright too for that matter, are essentially competing for the same reps within the offense.
Each possesses similar skills in the open field to Percy Harvin, and could be used the same way Harvin was on manufactured touches like bubble screens, but having three guys to fill this role would seem a little excessive despite the loss of Harvin to Seattle. Webb is going to have to establish himself in some other fashion, perhaps as a redzone threat where he capitalizes on his height, in order to earn one of the few remaining spots on the depth chart.
Back in January, I suggested that Webb had value to the Vikings as a practice team quarterback capable of emulating any of the many mobile quarterbacks on their 2013 schedule, but using him in this fashion could also prevent him from focusing on being a polished receiver. I still think Webb is an excellent option to run the practice team, and get the Vikings defense used to chasing down the likes of RGIII and Russell Wilson, but I am now less convinced that this will be enough reason to keep him on the roster.
The Vikings coaching staff, mainly receivers coach George Stewart, must really devote the time needed to find out just what they have in Webb. It seems fair to say that we know he isn’t an NFL quarterback, so this preseason they need to give him all possible reasons to succeed as a wideout, or else it might be time to cut ties with one of the most popular players on the roster.