Scoggins: Playmaker who rarely plays vexes Vikings

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 13, 2011 - 8:16 AM

Coaches see Joe Webb's dynamic athleticism, but where and how much should he get in?

Joe Webb became a YouTube hit before the 2010 NFL draft when he jumped over seven blocking dummies stacked on top of each other in a single bound.

That show of athleticism was pretty unreal, but you also wondered how the Vikings would utilize him to maximize his talents. Nothing has changed in that regard.

Webb provided another snapshot of his unique talent Sunday in relief of struggling rookie Christian Ponder in a 34-28 loss at Detroit. Entering early in the second half, Webb became the first Vikings quarterback to rush for more than 100 yards in a game, thanks largely to his 65-yard touchdown run.

He also passed for one touchdown, consistently avoided pressure and turned broken plays into positive gains by freelancing when the situation called for it.

Webb lamented a breakdown on the final play that prevented the Vikings from completing the comeback, but both locker rooms were gushing with praise after his one-man show. Those wanting to see more of Webb had a cold bucket of water dumped on their hopes, though, as coach Leslie Frazier declared postgame that Ponder remains the starter.

The Vikings promoted Webb to No. 2 quarterback after they released Donovan McNabb, but he can and should have a bigger role somehow.

Webb is an enigma because his skill set doesn't fit into one box. How many NFL quarterbacks have returned a kickoff? Webb did once last season, the first kickoff return ever by a Vikings quarterback.

Webb might not be accurate enough as a passer to become a starting quarterback. He's not a full-time wide receiver either, at least not in the team's opinion.

The Vikings designed the "Blazer" package specifically for Webb to use his dual-threat ability. Give them credit for trying to be creative, but how many times can they realistically line up in that formation in a game? A few snaps a game in that role doesn't allow Webb to establish any kind of rhythm.

Webb considers himself a quarterback. He's just not their quarterback of the future.

"I feel like that's my natural position," he said. "I feel the coaches believe I'm a quarterback. They haven't moved me back to receiver full time or another position full time so I thank the coaches for having confidence in me to continue to have me at quarterback."

Maybe this is just what he is, a backup quarterback for now. But then you watch Webb sprint away from defenders or elude trouble with a stutter-step and quick burst. You see the way Lions defenders were gasping for air late in that game. Isn't there more Webb can do than just stand on the sideline waiting for an occasional Blazer play call?

"He is for sure one of our playmakers, so it's something we will continue to explore," Frazier said. "We have some packages that we use sporadically. Maybe we go a little bit deeper with some of those packages."

It's worth a try. Webb might be the Vikings' best pure athlete, although Percy Harvin probably would have something to say about that. The team drafted Webb to play wide receiver but moved him to quarterback -- his position in college -- before his rookie season.

In either role, his athleticism puts stress on defenses.

"I've always respected his abilities," Frazier said. "His ability to get out of trouble, make plays, just create things when there's nothing else there. He makes things happen."

Webb gave a glimpse of that under odd circumstances in Philadelphia last season. He got the emergency start and performed better than anyone anticipated, perhaps even internally, in a 24-14 road victory.

Webb remains inconsistent throwing the ball, which was evident in some of his passes Sunday. He's still far from a finished product in that area. But he also creates problems because of his ability to break containment or draw defenders to him before finding an open receiver. The Lions used a designated player to track Webb on the final few drives.

"I believe everybody was spying me, especially after the touchdown run," he said.

Webb still found room to maneuver, which speaks to his talent but also his awareness of what's happening around him. Webb returns to his backup role this week, provided Ponder's hip pointer doesn't flare up. Frazier made it clear there is no quarterback controversy.

That's understandable, but we'd still like to see more of Webb.

The tricky part is figuring out how. And where.

Chip Scoggins •

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