The metamorphosis of rookie Joe Webb is going to complete itself Monday night. With the Vikings down to Plan C at quarterback with Brett Favre and Tarvaris Jackson both unavailable when the Arctic Blast comes two months earlier than normal this season, Webb has gone from a project to the Vikings' starting quarterback against the 9-4 Bears.
The jitters surrounding a first start have made mortals of many of the blue chip quarterbacks when thrown to the wolves – defenses stacked with veteran players with bad intentions. Tarvaris Jackson, as the 64th pick in the 2006 draft, made his NFL debut as a rookie in prime time against a division rival (the Green Bay Packers) on Dec. 21. The results? He completed 10 of 20 passes for just 50 yards, threw no touchdowns, was intercepted once, was sacked three times, had a passer rating of just 35.4 and his team lost 9-7.
History doesn't always bode well for the new kid on the block. Yet, Webb has shown none of the signs of nerves. As the Vikings finished their final practice in preparation for Monday's game, Webb is going to be front and center. He knows that Cinderella stories are few and far between when it comes to inexperienced quarterbacks dipping their toe in the water for the first time, but Webb said the nervous energy he has is due to where he came from and where he is. Time hasn't stood still for the rookie. It has flown by.
"I'm getting very excited," Webb said. "The week went by pretty fast. We've had a great week of preparation and I'm looking forward to the game."
The journey took Webb from being evaluated as a poor man's Antwaan Randle El, a college quarterback who graded out as a wide receiver at the NFL level with upside as a potential Wildcat/gadget play luxury to starter in eight months. At first, Webb was good with anything the Vikings (or any other team for that matter) was willing to offer.
"I was just happy to be on an NFL team," Webb said. "I had been told before the draft that my best chance to make it in the NFL would be as a wide receiver. I knew what I could do, but I was just looking to do whatever could get me on a team. If that meant being a wide receiver, playing on special teams, whatever – I was going to do it."
Webb admitted it was difficult to envision being an NFL starter as little as a month ago, but said that he was able to get limited reps with the first-team offense throughout the season as the injuries to Favre piled up and Jackson moved up to taking the majority of the first-team reps. This week, Webb got weaned into working with the first team. He wasn't just the guy with the baseball cap and the clipboard. He was seeing time.
The uncertainty about unexpectedly inaugurating TCF Bank Stadium will put all the players on a level footing. Webb is keeping his expectations in check, knowing that the Bears defensive veterans are looking at him the way lions look at a fragile zebra.
"We'll all be playing at that stadium for the first time, so from that end of things, we're all going to be doing something for the first time," Webb said. "But there are going to be a lot of guys who have years of experience and I don't forget that for a minute. Those guys have a lot of experience under their belts. This is my first game in the NFL. I'm just looking to go out there and help lead my team to victory."
Webb said he will be otherwise occupied at the time the Vikings honor the 50 greatest players in franchise history Monday, but admitted he has his own wish list of players that have preceded him that he would like to refer to as a peer.
"It's great to see the guys who came before us being honored," Webb said. "There have been some great players that have come through here that I would like to meet. Daunte Culpepper is a guy I admire a lot. Randall Cunningham is another one. I always thought Randall Cunningham had a lot of the same abilities I have. I've always thought I can read a defense and pass and scramble for big plays when I had to. That is something he always did at a high level and he was someone I always tried to be like. If I could get a chance to meet him, that would be great."
However, any meetings with former Vikings starting quarterbacks will have to be delayed until Webb joins the club on Monday night. He said he hasn't felt overwhelmed by the stage, but he knows that when the crowd starts winding up at 7 p.m. or so on Monday night he will have some butterflies in his stomach. Once the bullets start flying Monday, the nervousness will be gone and the work begins.
"I'm sure when game time comes, there's going to be a lot of emotions going into it," Webb said. "My heart will be pumping, but, once the ball gets kicked off and we get going, it will be just like it always has been. There will be a lot more people watching, but it's still playing football. I'm excited about this opportunity and I'm going to do my best to make the most out of it."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Webb reflects on his journey, future
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