Webb creates questions at backup QB

Joe Webb (Jon Dahlin/Viking Update)

Joe Webb's performance in the playoff game raises the question about the Vikings' viability at backup quarterback. Do they need a veteran presence there to fill in when needed and guide Christian Ponder when he is playing? There are some mid-level names scheduled to be free agents.

If the Vikings learned much of anything from the way their season ended with a 24-10 loss in to the Green Bay Packers in the wild card round of the playoffs, it is the importance of a backup quarterback.

Throughout the season, fans called for Joe Webb when starter Christian Ponder struggled most. During the regular season, Webb's only in-game duty ended up closing out games that were already decided. When he was called upon to make the start in the playoffs because of a deep contusion in Ponder's throwing arm, Webb responded with a clunker that may have shown fans one of the many reasons the coaching staff stuck with Ponder through thick and thin.

Webb completed 11 of 30 passes for 180 yards, one late touchdown, an interception and a 54.9 rating.

General manager Rick Spielman has been up front about his desire to build the Vikings' emerging roster through the draft. That philosophy appears to be working even faster than anticipated at several positions, but the question remains if Ponder and the team would be better-served having a veteran backup that could offer him more seasoned advice on the sideline and in the film room.

That will be one of the discussions over the next month as Spielman and the coaching staff begin evaluating the roster from top to bottom.

"We'll start evaluating each guy individually, and we start from our No. 1 guy on our roster to the last practice squad guy on our roster," Spielman said when asked about the backup quarterback position specifically. "We have very thorough and unfiltered discussions on each guy, and where we see them at, and whether we see them as part of our (team) going forward. But those decisions have not been determined."

The Vikings start by analyzing their own roster, including their free agents, then proceed to evaluating free agents around the league and finally hone in on a draft board. Eventually, all of those components come together in late February as they fine-tune their free-agent plan.

Frazier said the team getting to the playoffs created a bigger sense of urgency in the roster-building process, but he still expects to take the same approach in free agency – striking if there is something they feel is unique but generally looking to re-sign their own desired free agents first and then filling in around them.

But if they are looking to increase the experience at quarterback behind Ponder – at one point during the season, head coach Leslie Frazier said he didn't think it would do any good to bench Ponder because there wouldn't be much he could learn from Webb playing – there are plenty of second-tier options scheduled to be available.

There are familiar names like Tyler Thigpen, who spent his rookie offseason with the Vikings before they lost him on waivers, that offer a balance of experience and still are young enough to fill in if needed. And there is the over-the-hill gang, like Charlie Batch, Byron Leftwich, David Carr and Rex Grossman, who each have 10 or more years of experience and might not have much viable playing life left in them.

The prize of the free-agent quarterbacks is Joe Flacco, but the Ravens aren't likely to let him go after a solid postseason showing and the Vikings have made it clear they aren't looking to supplant Ponder as the starter. San Francisco's Alex Smith might also be available in a trade, but he would take up a lot of the Vikings' cap space, as he is due a $7.5 million salary.

Some of the more reasonable targets that, like Thigpen, offer a blend of experience and potential are Chase Daniel (Saints), Luke McCown (Falcons), Drew Stanton (Colts), Jason Campbell (Bears) and Brady Quinn (Chiefs).

But, no matter who the Vikings end up with for their backup (Webb is still under contract at a very reasonable $575,000 in 2013), the offensive approach isn't likely to change.

"It's the philosophy, you know, that when you have 28 (Adrian Peterson) in the backfield, the identity of our team is going to be tough, smart, physical, and you're not going to take the ball out of 28's hands," Spielman said. "Our identity is playing good defense and being physical up front, utilizing Adrian Peterson. I mean, 15 years from now, I don't see Adrian Peterson doing what he's doing. He may, because he defies everything people say he can't (do). But I think that's what our identity is, and that's how our football team is built, and that's how we have success winning games."
But when defenses have been so intent on stopping the run that they sell out their pass defense, the Vikings need to have an answer if Ponder isn't able to play, or is playing poorly. In the playoff loss, that didn't happen.

"You have to make plays in the passing game. They're going to put eight, nine, 10 – that last Green Bay game, it looked like there were 13 guys in the box. The coaches were out there, too," Spielman said. "You still have to have that balance on offense, where you do have to make plays in the passing game. In those four games, you saw Christian develop and you saw our ability to make those kinds of plays."

While it's clear the Vikings intend to head into the 2013 with Ponder as the starter, it's not as clear who will be his primary backup.


Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.


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