With the Vikings announcing that Brett Favre is officially out, it is now certain that Joe Webb will make his first NFL start Monday night against the Bears. It’s been a long time since the Vikings went into a game with such a green starting quarterback. In fact, the last time they began a game with a QB who had no career starts under his belt was on December 21, 2006, when Webb’s immediate predecessor Tarvaris Jackson made his debut against the Packers in Lambeau Field (it was a balmy 34 that day in Green Bay).
Jackson got his shot because Brad Childress was tired of Brad Johnson throwing interceptions, and because Childress wanted to see what his hand-picked project quarterback could do. Webb enters the line-up under very different circumstances – as an emergency replacement for injured veterans Favre and Jackson. As anxious as the Vikings may be to get a look at Webb under game conditions, I’m sure they would prefer not to throw him into quite as tough a situation as he will face Monday night against Chicago in the bitter cold. But that’s how it is in the NFL. Now it’s up to Webb to make something of his opportunity, as unfortunate as the circumstances around it may be.
So, what may we realistically expect from Joe Webb Monday night? That’s a hard call to make. The fact is, we don’t know very much about Webb as a quarterback. The little experience we have of him came in the preseason, when he was playing with the 3rd string. Those snaps showed us that Webb is very raw as a passer, but has enough pure athletic ability to create excitement. On the basis of the little we’ve seen, we should expect Webb to run, especially if he gets in trouble. Past experience tells us that young, mobile quarterbacks always have a tendency to scramble when rushed rather than patiently remain in the pocket, waiting for the last second to let a receiver come open.
Webb’s mobility is an asset I assume Darrell Bevell will try to take advantage of. So, look for some designed runs – quarterback draws perhaps – and also plenty of roll-outs. The conventional wisdom with young mobile QBs is that you should get them out of the pocket where they can read half the field and then run if necessary. Given Webb’s versatility (he was drafted as a wide receiver) the Wildcat also seems like a possibility – assuming the Vikings would waste precious practice time working on gimmick plays (Webb has only gotten one week of work with the 1st team, and wouldn’t that be better spent working on basic offense?).
Of course, designed runs and Wildcat plays are not the true measure of an NFL quarterback. In the end, the only thing that really matters is whether the guy can make the throws. Can Joe Webb hit the deep out? How does he look throwing a screen pass? How accurate is he on slants and crossing routes? What’s his deep ball look like? It would be nice to begin answering some if not all of these questions Monday night, but the problem is, the Bears plan on fielding a defense, and they have no interest in simply letting Joe Webb stand in the pocket and show off his arm.
Given the offensive line issues the Vikings have been having, it’s a good bet Webb will spend much of his evening picking himself up off the rock-hard turf. That being the case, I doubt we will get many definitive answers about Webb’s long-term prospects Monday night. I assume he will make a few plays along the way, mainly with his feet, but when all is said and done, Webb will still be mostly a question mark. If he comes out of it alive, that is.
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