MANKATO, Minn. -- I walked onto the field bright and early Wednesday morning at Minnesota State University, Mankato. The Minnesota Vikings’ quarterback of the present was standing off to the side, biding his time until he's eligible to practice. Their quarterback of the future was throwing with a bunch of rookies and backups who might or might not make the 2011 team.
So who is running the Vikings’ first-team offense while Donovan McNabb waits and Christian Ponder learns? Why, of course, it is Joe Webb -- the quarterback who is neither the present nor future of the position.
McNabb is expected to jump in with the first team as soon as NFL rules allow on Thursday morning. So I think it’s fair to ask why Webb, and not Ponder, has received the valuable first-team reps during the first three days of training camp. After all, the expectation is that Webb will serve as a backup quarterback and multipositional weapon during the season. Why not begin experimenting and training him on those skills right away?
The answer, I think, is two-fold. First, coach Leslie Frazier has already demonstrated an old-school approach to making personnel decisions. Webb finished last season as the Vikings’ starter, so therefore, he should get the first snaps of training camp when the other options are Ponder, a rookie, and Rhett Bomar, a late-season addition in 2010.
Second, the Vikings wanted to give Webb a solid footing at the quarterback position before spinning him off elsewhere. If McNabb is injured early this season, it’s possible Webb would get the call to replace him ahead of Ponder. And as a quarterback, Webb is implicitly learning the roles of each receiver and running back as well.
"These last three days have been very important for me," Webb said. "It's so different from the classroom or when you’re studying the plays. There is nothing like having real reps for the plays. This has been a great opportunity for me to get better. I've been preparing to be a quarterback, but I’ve had in the back of my mind that they might do something else with me. Right now, I'm just focused at quarterback. If during the season we have something else in the game plan for me, I’m all for it."
I get a steady stream of questions about what the Vikings might have planned for Webb, and from what I heard Wednesday, it would be surprising to see him simply buried on the depth chart behind McNabb and Ponder. The NFL now allows No. 3 quarterbacks to be active and enter a game without penalty, a rule change that offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave noted when discussing potential plans for Webb this season.
"I’ve heard a lot about Joe and I’m looking forward to seeing what all he’s got under the hood," Musgrave said. "He’s doing a nice job at quarterback now. We want him to focus on quarterback and not dilute his pot too much. We know he can run, we know he can throw it 80 yards, we know he can make people miss.
"The new rules will enable us to kind of have a Joe Webb package I can see in the future, too. ... We're looking forward to finding out what Joe’s all about and if he proves to be one of our 11 best players at times then we’ll get his [expletive] on the field."
I’ll be interested to see what goes into the "Joe Webb package," but it will have to be highly specialized given his lack of experience beyond the quarterback position. No matter how athletic a player is, he can’t simply trot out to wide receiver and know how to play the position. Perhaps we'll see him as a Wildcat quarterback. Maybe you'll see him in the backfield with McNabb. Perhaps he'll stretch a few defenses with outside go routes.
Regardless, time is a wasting. For Webb, that work will begin Thursday. Stay tuned.