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Updated: August 23rd, 2010 11:59pm
Pelissero: Joe Webb's playmaking ability is forcing Vikings' hand

Pelissero: Joe Webb's playmaking ability is forcing Vikings' hand

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by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com

If the Minnesota Vikings had any thoughts about keeping only two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster, Joe Webb probably ended them on Sunday night.

The raw rookie from UAB continues to rush out of his reads, break the pocket on almost every dropback and fall back too often on his legs and athleticism.

But it's those legs and athleticism that have helped Webb generate two touchdown drives in two preseason outings -- the latest thanks to a 48-yard scoring scramble at San Francisco that stands as one of the exhibition season's most memorable plays.

No longer is the discussion about whether it's worth stashing Webb on the bench for a year or two to develop him as a passer. The Vikings still may do that, but now there has to be talk about finding a role for Webb immediately, too.

As Brett Favre put it, "The guy's just an amazing talent. He's got a great arm. Big, physical guy who can fly. I look at him and say you've got to find a way to get him on the field somehow, some way."

If the Vikings don't, the odds now seem strong that someone else -- perhaps one of the dozen or so teams that had scouts at Candlestick Park on Sunday -- will decide they can.

With Favre back (finally) and Tarvaris Jackson locked into the No. 2 job, Sage Rosenfels and his $2.6 million base salary are fully expendable. The Vikings almost surely will try to move Rosenfels, and NFL sources have said there will be a market for him.

In a weird way, Webb actually may have lowered Rosenfels' value, though, because other teams know the Vikings will be reluctant to expose the rookie to waivers. That shifts leverage in trade talks that will occur in the coming weeks.

Here's the tale of the tape at the other positions halfway through the preseason slate.

Running backs: Adrian Peterson was in midseason form on Sunday, breaking three tackles while gaining 42 yards on nine touches. ILB Patrick Willis did make Peterson look bad on a blitz pick-up and sacked Favre, but Peterson stopped LB Manny Lawson on another zone blitz on the next series. Rookie Toby Gerhart just isn't getting many chances (four carries, 10 yards) and looks unsure at times in protection. Albert Young still is hanging onto the third-down role. Darius Reynaud took a step back on offense but has emerged as the leader on punt returns. Big rookie Ryan D'Imperio flashed with a good lead on one third-down run but keeps taking too many bad plays and penalties (two holds) to challenge Naufahu Tahi at fullback.

Receivers: Bernard Berrian and Greg Lewis were quiet again in place of Sidney Rice (hip) and Percy Harvin (migraines), combining for one catch (a 10-yard in to Berrian). Logan Payne kept helping himself, making a tough 4-yard catch to convert a third down, but the Vikings need to see more from him on special teams -- he misplayed a punt badly near the goal line. Taye Biddle finally caught a couple short passes but had another terrible drop and is fading back into the pack with Ray Small, Marquis Hamilton and Marko Mitchell. The Javon Walker signing was a nod to the Vikings' lack of options if Rice isn't ready for the opener and/or another receiver goes down.

Tight ends: Visanthe Shiancoe didn't have a ball thrown his way in his preseason debut, but he and Jimmy Kleinsasser know where they stand -- both played the first three snaps with Favre. Jeff Dugan dropped two passes and Garrett Mills caught another, taking a quick in from Webb for 15 yards. The Vikings have gone four-deep in the past. Rookie Mickey Shuler isn't making much of a push.

Offensive line: LT Bryant McKinnie gave up two quarterback hits, but the bigger issue with the first group was C Jon Cooper, who started again for John Sullivan (calf strain) and has coaches considering alternatives. NT Ricky Jean Francois beat Cooper to drop Peterson for a 3-yard loss early -- one of several issues getting movement at the point for Cooper, who's on the small side at 6-foot-2 and 291 pounds. The Vikings fared better with Anthony Herrera at center and Chris DeGeare at right guard, where the rookie has the tools to succeed but remains inconsistent. DeGeare pulled well on one power run, hooked LB Matt Wilhelm for a penalty on another and whiffed altogether on a third. Chris Clark was a mess again at left tackle, giving up two sacks and four unofficial pressures. If worse came to worse, the Vikings probably would have to flip RT Phil Loadholt to the other side.

Defensive line: Despite blitzing on three of six dropbacks, the Vikings' starters put no pressure on QB Alex Smith. The run defense was fine again despite NT Pat Williams' absence -- four of nine runs went for a yard or less, and RB Anthony Dixon's 4-yard TD run was more a perimeter problem. Second-stringers Fred Evans and Jayme Mitchell stood out for a second straight week. Evans had two quarterback hits and another pressure; Mitchell ate up first-round draft pick RT Anthony Davis on several snaps and also dropped well in zone coverage. DE Everson Griffen isn't showing up at all on defense and missed two chances for tackles on coverage units -- pushing him further onto the bubble than it seemed he'd be during his promising offseason.

Linebacker: MLB E.J. Henderson was in on seven tackles on the opening series -- including one for loss and another for no gain -- in his first game since breaking a leg last Dec. 6. When he's going downhill, Henderson looks like himself, but he still seems a little tentative in space and had three balls completed near him in zone coverage. Rookie Nate Triplett remains invisible in all phases and isn't putting any heat on the established backups.

Defensive backs: Asher Allen got the start over Lito Sheppard at right cornerback and turned in an uninspiring performance. He gave up three completions, seemed slow at times to react to routes out of stacks and was handled by Ted Ginn Jr. on Dixon's touchdown run. Allen also may have taken himself out of the running for punt return duties -- he let consecutive kicks bounce, giving up 8- and 10-yard rolls, and awkwardly pulled in another with his fingertips. Sheppard mostly was OK, giving up one completion and getting pancaked by a kickout block. Rookie Chris Cook got a couple of snaps at right corner, is hanging with everyone and is looking more and more like he deserves a shot at starting. SS Tyrell Johnson didn't play until the third quarter, laid a huge lick on TE Nate Byham and still seems to have the edge over Jamarca Sanford, although the gap may be shrinking.

Specialists: After an apparent warm-up snafu, Rhys Lloyd didn't get a chance to make a move in his push for kickoff duties. Lloyd's only chances came on an extra point and an onside kick that never got off the ground. Ryan Longwell converted a 40-yard field goal and is in no danger of relinquishing place-kicking duties. His kickoffs have been fine, too.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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