INDIANAPOLIS -- The only football player more popular than the backup quarterback on an NFL team is a backup quarterback so dynamic that fans want to see him play receiver, running back and return kicks as well. That probably explains why Joe Webb is always trending among Minnesota Vikings fans. If that's the case, I'm afraid it's time for everyone to come back to Earth.
Speaking to reporters Friday at the NFL combine, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier indicated the time for experimenting with Webb is over. The team plans to abandon its vision of him as a multi-positional player and focus on him at quarterback. "We want to give him the best chance to really fulfill his potential as a quarterback," Frazier said.
Frazier made clear that he isn't gearing up a competition between Webb and starter Christian Ponder. Rather, the Vikings think Webb can be a "viable No. 2" quarterback and want him to be as prepared as possible if an injury forces Ponder out of a game.
"In our league you need to have a solid backup quarterback," Frazier said. "You saw some of the injuries Christian suffered in the games he had [in 2011]. Joe coming in really was a plus for us. We're going to need that. Hopefully Christian can avoid injuries, but having Joe as a backup is good for the football team."
That is certainly the case if Ponder has another season like 2011, when injuries forced him from two games and limited him in several others. But to play devil's advocate, what if Ponder stays on the field all season? Wouldn't the Vikings have missed an opportunity to get a playmaker on the field elsewhere?
Frazier laughed when I asked that question Friday and suggested he would be happy to revisit the decision if it comes to that.
"That would be a great scenario," Frazier said. "Christian takes off and becomes a Pro Bowl player and you deal with whatever you have to deal from there. But Joe is such a talented guy. In our league, you need a talented backup quarterback. You're just one injury away from having to play with your backup. Joe is to me an outstanding guy in that role."
I don't see Frazier's decision as a sign of middling support for Ponder, but rather a realization of what we've discussed for more than a year about Webb. It takes practice time and a certain level of commitment to develop the kind of player the Vikings wanted Webb to be. Working on those skills while also serving as the backup quarterback proved a bloated workload. The Vikings needed to make a choice, one way or the other, and now they have.