Joe Webb (Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY)
Joe Webb is fighting for his NFL survival, this time as a wide receiver. He is clearly on the roster bubble, but he is focused on his work ethic, not his work future.
It started with a mistake.
Joe Webb, a college wide receiver-turned-quarterback, was a rookie with the Vikings and a receiver-turned-quarterback thanks to a mistake. A miscommunication on the first day of rookie minicamp changed Webb’s life. Playing wide receiver, he cut off a route and a pass sailed over his head. A team assistant called for the ball after Webb went and picked it up.
Webb threw a tightly-spiraled 40-yard seed. Brad Childress was in close proximity to that seed’s end point and, by all player accounts, said something loosely translated as, “Wait … what?”
From that point until a fateful playoff night at Lambeau Field in January, Webb wore a red jersey much more often than a purple jersey. He had found himself a secure roster spot as a backup quarterback and, in limited relief duties his first two seasons, had earned the trust of the coaching staff.
All that changed in the playoff loss to Green Bay last year. Gone was the red jersey of a quarterback. Webb got moved back to the initial plan of having him be a wide receiver – a transition he expected as a rookie that was coming true in his fourth season.
Webb could be bitter about the switch, but he’s taken a philosophical approach to the move. He’s embraced the challenge and is making the most out of it.
“I’ve just been taking it one step at a time,” Webb said. “It started at OTAs. Coach Stewart is doing a great job helping me with my route running. Greg Jennings, Jerome Simpson, Jarius Wright – they’re all helping me out, also. All things considered, it’s been a fairly easy transition.”
Head coach Leslie Frazier has marveled at the ease with which Webb has made the transition, noting that he looks like he has played the position for years, not months.
“When we came to Joe with our plan, he embraced it,” Frazier said. “Most players couldn’t make that kind of switch, but Joe is so athletic that he can. He didn’t complain about it. He accepted it right away and has made some big strides in making the transition.”
With no roster guarantees at wide receiver, Webb has taken on the challenge. He knows his name isn’t written in pen on the final 53-man roster and that he’s going to have to earn his spot. However, he wouldn’t have it any other way. The best 53 players make an NFL roster and he’s convinced he can be one of those 53 – even at a new position.
“It’s all about the work you put in,” Webb said. “If you work hard at your position or your craft or whatever you’re doing, there’s nothing but positive that can come out of it. That’s my attitude with it. I’m not completely new to the position. I played some wide receiver in college. I’m kind of familiar with the position here, but making the switch at the NFL level is hard.”
There is going to be a lot of competition for the wide receiver spots on the 2013 Vikings roster. Webb is far from guaranteed of landing one of them. If the first two preseason games are any indication, it may be a mountain for him to climb. He hasn’t seen the field until well into the second half of both games and is taking more snaps with the third-term offense than the first or second teams.
In a little more than two weeks, Webb’s Vikings career may find itself as a crossroads. He’s gone from the security of being a backup QB to a question mark to make the roster as a wide receiver, but he isn’t worrying about it now. All he can do is continue to work hard and hope that, in the end, it pays off and he remains on the roster – this time as a wide receiver and not a quarterback.
“I can’t control those things,” Webb said. “The only things I can control is what I perform on the field, the way I practice and the way I carry myself. Whatever happens, you need to be able to say I put my all into it, I did my best and I did everything the coaches asked me to do. As long as you put in the hard work, everything else will take care of itself.”
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.