Notebook: Joe Webb 'has very good hands,' but transition won't be easy
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The first organized team activity practice the Minnesota Vikings opened to reporters ended with a Joe Webb catch on Wednesday, and why not?
The athletic ex-quarterback's attempt to move to receiver will be one of the most watched developments all the way through training camp.
"All the concerns I have, I try to work on," Webb said after some post-practice work with receivers coach George Stewart. "Everybody's going to say catching the ball, running routes, getting open -- that's the main keys of a receiver. So, just continue to work on those things each day."
Webb, 26, has the size (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) for the position. He played it for portions of his career at UAB and was drafted as a receiver in 2010. But former coach Brad Childress moved him to quarterback after rookie minicamp, and Webb has played only 32 snaps at receiver in three NFL seasons, catching one pass for 9 yards.
Teammates privately have raved about the hands Webb displayed on Wednesday, snaring one pass on a cross from backup quarterback Matt Cassel in a blitz drill and another from McLeod Bethel-Thompson to close the session. The other aspects of becoming an NFL receiver will take time that isn't on Webb's side as he enters a contract year.
"I was talking to him today about one of the toughest parts of the transition is just the route-running part," coach Leslie Frazier said. "He has very good hands. He knows the offense very well. He's actually helping some of the young guys in where to line up at.
"(The hope is) he'll be able to grasp the route running part of it fast enough to give himself the best chance to go out and really have a chance to make the transition smoothly when we get to training camp. Knowing how hard he works and knowing how much he wants to succeed as a receiver, he'll have a very good chance of getting that done."
Frazier said the Vikings have some ideas about how to use Webb that go "beyond just lining him up at the 'X' or the 'Z' position." The plan for now, however, is to let him focus on one spot -- plus some reps as a gunner on the punt team as he seeks out a role.
"That's what we call the ultimate team player," halfback Adrian Peterson said. "A guy who keeps his head up, switch positions, is doing what's best for the team and doing anything that can help this team win."
Ponder up and down
The Vikings' passing game remains a work in progress. It certainly looked that way on Wednesday.
With top receiver Greg Jennings sitting out with a sore ankle, Christian Ponder completed 6 of 12 passes in team (11-on-11 drills) -- overthrowing several balls down the field, including one intended for Kyle Rudolph up the seam that became an easy interception for Harrison Smith.
"We're doing some things good, some not so well," Ponder said. "That's how it happens first few days. Always have to have that heightened sense of awareness and pushing ourselves and knowing it's going to take a lot of work to get where we want to be."
"I think we're all getting more confident, comfortable in what we're doing," Ponder said. "Hard to win in this league, we know that. We have to work hard and have the ball bounce our way a few times this year."
Ponder finished 6-of-12 passing in team (11-on-11 drills). Cassel was 6-of-9, Bethel-Thompson 3-of-5 and rookie James Vandenberg 1-of-1.
Henderson was in the middle as expected on Wednesday, calling the defensive signals as he has made clear he intends to do all season after the departure of Jasper Brinkley.
"A majority of the game is already played from nickel, so I've seen it from that perspective," said Henderson, who split time with Brinkley as the nickel mike last season. "When you get a chance to go out there and play it in the base, you just have to let some of those things roll over."
Frazier once again mentioned second-year pro Audie Cole and rookie seventh-round pick Michael Mauti, who is coming off left knee reconstruction, as possibilities in the middle -- though he wouldn't guarantee either will get a single first-team rep.
"Only if they do enough to show that they're worthy of that," Frazier said. "Erin will be the starter and they will have to show that they've done something to pique our interest to see how they'll handle a starting role. ... This is only our second practice so we have a long way to go."
Robinson works inside
The slot cornerback job in the nickel defense remains up for grabs, but the most logical candidate worked there on Wednesday.
Josh Robinson, the speedy Central Florida who fell out of the rotation late in his rookie season, worked with the starters opposite Chris Cook in the base defense. In nickel, Robinson moved inside and first-round pick Xavier Rhodes replaced him outside.
Robinson rarely trained inside last season, but the Vikings believe he has the physical tools to handle it.
"We'll start integrating him into that position now just to find out if he can do it," Frazier said. "We think he can, but we have to get some practices under his belt and get some preseason games as well. If he can do it, it will help our secondary tremendously."
A.J. Jefferson and Rhodes were the corners with the second string.
Simpson feeling healthy
Starting split end Jerome Simpson said the numbness he felt in his lower leg from a back injury last season is gone and should be no problem leading into 2013.
After a disappointing inaugural season with the Vikings, in which he tallied 26 receptions and zero touchdowns, Simpson looked and sounded healthy during Wednesday's practice.
"I just took some time off this offseason to heal and did what the doctors told me," Simpson said. "I feel 10 times better than I did last season. Just got my legs back."
Simpson backed up his talk with an acrobatic, leaping catch on the sidelines to grab a high pass during team drills.
• PK Blair Walsh said P Jeff Locke, the fifth-round pick from UCLA, is the frontrunner to replace Chris Kluwe as the Vikings' holder. Locke took the majority of reps in Wednesday's practice. "He held in college, so he knows what he's doing," Walsh said. "We just need to get consistent -- just overanalyzing things right now so we can correct it and don't have to do it during the season." Cassel hasn't worked on holding at all, Walsh said.
• Peterson said he's gotten a little more attention since winning the MVP -- not to mention endorsements. He signed a new deal with Nike. He also signed on to endorse the EpiPen, which head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman administered after Peterson suffered an allergic reaction to jambalaya he ate during training camp last year. "I do not want to use it," Peterson said. "But I keep it around."
• Frazier said the Vikings are looking at rookie first-round draft pick WR Cordarrelle Patterson mostly as a kick returner, not a punt returner. Those catching punts on Wednesday included incumbent Marcus Sherels, Josh Robinson, Greg McCoy and rookies Jerodis Williams and Bradley Randle.
• Rookie S Darius Eubanks had an interception on a tipped pass during 7-on-7 drills. Later in the same period, CB Roderick Williams stripped rookie WR Rodney Smith on a punch from behind and S Mistral Raymond recovered.
• Joe Berger filled in for C John Sullivan (knee surgery) with the first string. RT Phil Loadholt also sat out a portion of team drills of was replaced by a combination of Kevin Murphy and Travis Bond, the rookie seventh-round pick from North Carolina.
• On defense, NT Fred Evans received the first rep in both team periods ahead of Letroy Guion, who was the primary starter there last year. Everson Griffen filled in for absent RE Jared Allen. S Jamarca Sanford took first-team reps opposite S Harrison Smith.
• Walsh made 6 of 7 field-goal attempts between 31 and 43 yards in a team setting, missing wide right from 41.
• RB Matt Asiata switched numbers from 48 to 44.