On occasion, it's hard not to root for certain professional athletes. Joe Webb has a fan here.
Webb may not have an ideal position in the NFL. He might not have the acumen or accuracy to be a successful, full-time starting quarterback. He might not have the short-area quickness to be a productive receiver.
No, Webb might still end up being just one incredible athlete that never really finds a position of sustained success in the NFL. He has tremendous leaping ability and athleticism but wasn't allowed to show it off at the NFL Scouting Combine in 2010. The University of Alabama-Birmingham product wasn't invited, but he still drew the interest of the Vikings.
However, even after coming to Minnesota, the Vikings couldn't figure out how to use him. They started him out as a receiver, but Brad Childress moved him to quarterback after seeing him throw in an early minicamp. All they knew was his athleticism was special.
It still is, and Webb will be getting another chance as a quarterback after signing a one-year deal with the Carolina Panthers on Friday. Good for him. He always seemed to want to be a quarterback above all else, but throughout the initial move to receiver, then quickly back to quarterback in 2010, then back to receiver, Webb was always – always! – a team player first.
Perhaps no one had as legitimate an opportunity to complain or grumble. Webb never did, and his endearing personality and infectious laugh were always part of his charm and value in a locker room that can become frayed during trying times – and there were plenty of those as Webb's career with the Vikings navigated the end of the Childress regime, the end of the Brett Favre era and the duration of the Leslie Frazier regime.
Fortunately for Webb, his attitude has been unselfish and his personality easy-going. It makes him a player you want to succeed.
His latest challenge was moving back to receiver after he was forced into the postseason spotlight in January 2013 at Lambeau Field when Christian Ponder couldn't play because of a deep triceps bruise on his throwing arm. Webb gave full effort, but cold conditions and a game plan that strayed from his strengths were no help.
Despite plenty of blame to go around, Webb accepted the decision to move him back to receiver after that game.
"One of the most important things was to try to work on my hand-eye coordination, make sure I'm catching the ball well and running good routes, getting in and out of breaks. So that's one of the main things I've been focusing on," Webb said last June, six months after that move.
"I didn't have a drop – thank God for that – so I'm continuing to get better in that area."
That move put his roster spot in a precarious position. The Vikings had already signed Greg Jennings, re-signed Jerome Simpson, drafted Cordarrelle Patterson and had 2012 draft picks Jarius Wright and Greg Childs waiting in the wings. But it would be so un-Webb-like to complain.
His attitude had to be part of the reason the Vikings were willing to display patience in his transition.
"It would be unfair to evaluate him as a receiver like I evaluate the rest of them because they've been receivers all their lives. Joe's been a quarterback," receivers coach George Stewart said last offseason. "… We will evaluate him differently until he has a chance to get his feet underneath him and has a chance to get better as a receiver."
Webb didn't have some advantages moving to receiver, according to Frazier.
"One of the toughest parts of the transition is just the route-running part," Frazier said last summer. "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. Just that he'll be able to grasp the route-running part of it fast enough to give himself the best chance to go out and really have a chance to make the transition smoothly when we get to training camp."
Webb survived it. He made the team while the Vikings placed Childs on physically unable to perform and released bigger receivers like Chris Summers, Erik Highsmith, LaMark Brown and slot receiver Adam Thielen.
For the first time in his four-year career, Webb last year played in all 16 games, even if he was only in for 18 percent of the offensive snaps. When he was in, it was pretty predictable. He was targeted only 11 times and had five catches in 187 offensive snaps – when Webb was in, it was more than likely going to be a running play.
Now he gets a new lease on his career … as a quarterback. He will have a chance to battle for a backup spot behind Cam Newton in Carolina after what Panthers head coach Ron Rivera categorized as a "strong workout."
"He is a young player who intrigues us and has a similar skill set to Cam," Rivera said in a press release. "With Cam sidelined for the spring, it is an opportunity to get a good evaluation of Joe as well as Matt Blanchard, who was on our practice squad last year."
Webb's size (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) is an asset at the position. But his biggest advantage will be his attitude.
Even after spending a year behind Brett Favre in 2010, Webb quickly accepted an offer from Christian Ponder in 2011 to work out with him in Florida when players were locked out by NFL owners during the 2011 labor dispute. Ponder and Webb got along well in the heat of the sunshine state. Despite being competitors for the same quarterback position, Webb never publicly complained.
Laughter and a smile have always been part of his arsenal. It's good to see him getting another chance to pursue the position he always seemed to want most. Maybe Webb can resurrect his quarterback possibilities in Carolina. If not, he isn't likely to complain.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Sunday slant: Webb easy to cheer for
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