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Updated: August 13th, 2013 7:36pm
Zulgad: Joe Webb's versatility could make him a keeper

Zulgad: Joe Webb's versatility could make him a keeper

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

The Minnesota Vikings are doing their best to make everyone believe that they are evaluating quarterback-turned-wide receiver Joe Webb strictly on his pass catching abilities in training camp.

If that's true, Webb's three-year run with the Vikings likely will end. Assuming the Vikings keep five wide outs, those spots would go to Greg Jennings, Jerome Simpson, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jarius Wright and, probably, Stephen Burton.

But, as is always the case, anything an NFL team says this time of year has to be taken with a massive grain of salt.

And that might be good news for Webb.

The thing that Webb has going against him is he doesn't do any one thing really well. He's made some nice catches in training camp, but he's a work in progress as a wide receiver.

Asked to run coordinator Bill Musgrave's offense last season in the Vikings' playoff loss at Green Bay, Webb proved to be extremely ineffective at quarterback.

The Vikings, for some reason, abandoned the read-option early in that game and Webb, starting in place of injured Christian Ponder, completed only 11 of 30 passes for 180 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

That performance is the big reason why Webb is not returning as Ponder's backup. Ponder is entering a key season and if he struggles, as he did during a stretch last year, odds are he will be replaced by newcomer Matt Cassel.

So why does Webb have hope of spending the season in Minnesota? Because NFL executives and coaches consider the 53 spots on the roster to be precious and the more a player can do the better.

Thus consider this scenario as final cuts are considered: Ponder and Cassel are kept as the top two quarterbacks and Webb is employed as the No. 3 quarterback, a backup wide receiver and also a contributor on special teams.

Webb might not be great at a particular role but his versatility would be a selling point.

Webb is not only a talented athlete but he also is well liked in the Vikings locker room and general manager Rick Spielman and Frazier have gone to great lengths to create a good environment.

The Vikings are currently carrying four quarterbacks but Iowa's James Vandenberg has almost no chance to make it. That leaves McLeod Bethel-Thompson, who served as the No. 3 quarterback last season and has a good arm.

This will come down to how much upside the Vikings see in Bethel-Thompson.

Webb would be better served to be kept as the third quarterback instead of as the No. 2 for a couple of reasons.

First off, the odds of him having to be play the position would be remote.

But, more importantly, if he was forced into action it likely would be during a game and not in a spot start.

Keep in mind, Webb nearly engineered a comeback at Detroit in 2011 after Ponder was lifted and then led the Vikings over Washington later that season after Ponder was injured.

The key in those games is that Webb entered during the game and essentially ran "The Joe Webb" offense without worrying about every little thing Musgrave wanted. The game plan had to be adjusted to fit Webb's strengths in quick fashion and it was.

This caused major problems for the Lions and Redskins. The Vikings certainly remember those two games.

They also know they put Webb in an unfavorable situation last season.

What if Webb was put in a more favorable situation this year?

The Vikings might want to find out the answer to that question by keeping him on the 53-man roster as a super utility player. 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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