Joe Webb graduated with a degree in criminal justice and had plans to become an investigator if his football career stalled.
That’s ironic, because he remains a mystery as a football player.
Webb was drafted as a wide receiver, moved to quarterback and now is attempting to carve out a career as a wide receiver. He also has returned kickoffs and been the focal point of a gimmicky “Blazer” package.
His NFL career began with a YouTube clip of him leaping over seven blocking pads stacked chest-high. The Vikings still are trying to figure out how to maximize that unique physical ability.
The coaching staff saw enough potential in Webb’s development at receiver throughout training camp and preseason to give him a spot on the 53-man roster. The team hopes it has found the answer to the Joe Webb riddle.
“I still have a long ways to go,” said Webb, whose player profile on the league website still listed him as a quarterback Monday afternoon.
It’s perhaps fitting that Webb’s first game as a full-time receiver will take place in Detroit on Sunday, because Ford Field was the site of his best game as a quarterback. In 2011, Webb replaced Christian Ponder in the second half and turned the game into a personal showcase. His 109 rushing yards set a team record by a quarterback and he also completed 12 of 23 passes for 84 yards and a touchdown in the loss.
But it became abundantly clear — even to Webb’s loyal supporters — in subsequent games that he did not have a future at quarterback, at least not with the Vikings. His emergency start in place of an injured Ponder in the Green Bay playoff game last season proved disastrous.
“That’s something I left in my past,” Webb said of the playoff game. “I learned from that game and I’m moving on. At that point, when they asked me to move [positions], I was all in.”
Webb admits he’s still relatively raw as a receiver, but he sees improvement in his route running and pass catching. He finished the preseason with 10 catches for 65 yards and one touchdown. However, he dropped a dump-off pass in the final preseason game when it appeared he tried to turn upfield before securing the ball.
Webb got the nod over Stephen Burton in the competition for the fifth and final wide receiver job. Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said Webb’s versatility on special teams weighed heavily in the decision. Webb has worked as a gunner on the punt team and can return kicks if needed.
The Vikings also admire Webb’s positive attitude and the way he’s embraced this change and the challenges of learning a new position in his fourth season.
“We saw the growth as a receiver from the time we made the decision back in the spring, but also the additions he could give us on special teams,” Frazier said. “That was probably the thing that really solidified in our minds that we have another guy who could be a potential core player for us on special teams and make a difference there, along with being a quality receiver.”
Webb insists he wasn’t nervous waiting for word on whether he would survive roster cuts. He found other activities to keep his mind preoccupied. He hung with his kids and played video games and took in the State Fair.
“Ate a couple of corn dogs,” he said.
That seems like a perfect diversion.