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WebbWatch: Joe Webb's athleticism

Before seeing former Minnesota Vikings quarterback Joe Webb as a wide receiver in organized team activities (OTAs), I suggested he has "a long, long way to go in terms of technique and route-running." During our Tuesday SportsNation chat, I also figured that Webb was more of a development project than Cordarrelle Patterson, the Vikings' raw but talented first-round draft pick.

After seeing Webb on Wednesday, I would enhance the assessment by noting his excellent hands, routinely snatching the ball out of the air before it came close to his body. His command of the playbook, meanwhile, is strong enough to help some of the Vikings' younger receivers line up. But even coach Leslie Frazier said that in his most hopeful vision of Webb's progress, "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."

Tonee of Winter, Wis., wasn't having it, asking via the mailbag why Patterson was a first-round draft pick while Webb -- who is bigger, stronger, a better leaper and almost as fast -- is considered to be such a long shot. An excerpt from a long note:

"Rather than focusing on what is not yet polished, let's be excited for how strong and new the oak table is. A good coach, like a good craftsman, can sand it out and put varnish on it. You can't coach size. There is only so much you can do to improve someone's speed, strength, and jumping ability.

"There was an article in Sports Illustrated a couple years ago explaining the formula for LSU football's success. They recruit by athletic ability rather than position. They would prefer the better athletes (explaining that many of their players are high school quarterbacks) and feel they can coach them to play a different position. Most of Percy Harvin's receptions came near or even behind the line of scrimmage last year. Let's give Joe Webb the same opportunity for now and teach him how to run downfield."

I don't disagree with the final sentiment: Rather than trying to mold Webb into a classic receiver and expect perfect route discipline, why not create the kind of hybrid role that emphasizes his open-field running ability and minimizes his inexperience? Webb will have to demonstrate a certain level of proficiency even in that kind of role, of course, and there will always be concerns about giving away the play if he is used in a limited package. But at this point in Webb's career, there is no doubt that some of the corners must be rounded off.

I would, however, caution against the idea that Webb's athleticism alone will lead to success, per the LSU model. In the NFL, everyone is the equivalent of an LSU athlete. It works at the college level because the skill and talent disparity is much wider.

Very clearly, though, Webb's crash course at receiver is going to be a point of high interest in the NFC North this summer. I'll plan accordingly. (No, it's not time for a permanent WebbWatch. Not yet.)