Joe Webb was in full afterthought mode when he was called upon to relieve an ailing and struggling Christian Ponder midway through the third quarter of Sunday's game in Detroit.
Prior to that point, Webb had played 21 snaps in the first 12 games of the season and only had been elevated to the backup QB spot once Donovan McNabb was released.
But Webb's stirring performance in the 34-28 loss to the Lions proved one thing: The Vikings need to find a way to utilize Webb's athleticism without taking too many snaps away from Ponder when he's healthy.
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Webb had prepared to start prior to the game because of Ponder's balky hip pointer injury that left him off the practice field much of the week. With extra snaps during practice, the team, for the first time in earnest, was able to expand Webb's "Blazer" package, which mainly had been in hibernation this season. The team ran a few half-hearted direct snaps to Webb in the first few games of the season and then seemed to shelf the idea as Webb was limited to one pass attempt and two rush attempts between Weeks 2-12 that included five games in which he never left the bench.
On Sunday, Webb gave the offense a shot in the arm under center full time. He immediately led scoring drives of 88 and 60 yards, cutting a 17-point deficit to six. The entire Lions' defense missed him at one point or another as Webb ran for 109 yards, including a 65-yard score. He was creating havoc against an undisciplined unit and showed that his skills are too diverse to keep stashed away for when Ponder is hurt.
And therein lies the trick for offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and head coach Leslie Frazier: They don't want to retard Ponder's development and yet there is a serious dearth of playmaking prowess on this offense. Adrian Peterson is a great back, and Percy Harvin is a superior slot receiver. But both are injury-prone, and there are no other game changers on the roster. Too often the past few games, Ponder has tried to force passes and be too fine; he's forced to be extra precise with his throws because the Vikings' receivers often can't separate from tight-man coverage.
Webb might never be a 60-snap offensive player. He has shown limited development as a wideout, and Ponder is unquestionably the starting quarterback who can't have his rhythm disrupted with frequent personnel changes. McNabb complained about it, but he had a point: It's harder for a QB to get into the flow when he's not running every snap under center and must shift to receiver or come off the field. That's what the Vikings want to avoid. They didn't spend the 12th pick in the 2011 draft on Ponder to make him anything less than the full-time QB.
Webb might get a series or two a game or come in for the occasional specialty play from here on out this season, but Project Webb might not get fully off the ground until the offseason. That's when Musgrave, QB coach Craig Johnson and Frazier can best identify what Webb does best under center, when to use him there and when to use him at wideout, where his development is merely in the early stages.