During his final season with the Minnesota Vikings when he was moved from quarterback to receiver, Joe Webb never stopped throwing.
Webb would grab a ball before or after practices, find a teammate and start whistling spirals to him. Any breaks in the action during practices would find Webb on the sideline loading up his right arm.
“When I was playing receiver I still would throw the ball, just making sure I was sharp in my mechanics,” Webb said. “I would say to myself, ‘You never know what will happen.’ ”
What happened was the Vikings used three quarterbacks – Christian Ponder, Matt Cassell and Josh Freeman – on their way to a 5-10-1 record that cost coach Leslie Frazier his job.
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Meanwhile, Webb remained at receiver, where he caught five passes for 33 yards as an afterthought in the Vikings’ offense.
After the season, Webb returned home to Birmingham, Ala., with his NFL future in limbo.
Then Cam Newton had ankle surgery, and the Panthers called Webb to see if he was interested in working out for them – as a quarterback. He signed a one-year deal March 25, five days after Newton’s surgery.
“Right now they like me at quarterback. That’s going to be my main focus,” Webb said Saturday during a phone interview. “It was great news to hear.”
Webb will share reps with No. 2 quarterback Derek Anderson during organized team activities and minicamp this spring while Newton continues his four-month recovery. The Panthers re-signed Anderson to a two-year deal during March, so it’s possible Webb is a temp until Newton returns, as expected, for training camp.
But Webb’s not worried with that for the time being. He’s in a new city, with better weather than Minneapolis, and is back at his preferred position.
“It’s been a great experience so far. I’m just loving the new start, the fresh beginning,” he said. “I don’t know how that’s going to go, but I’m going to be sure to prepare myself to be ready to go when my number’s called.”
After Newton’s record-setting rookie season, the Panthers had their eye on a dual-threat quarterback who had taken Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl in his only season with the Badgers.
The thinking was if Newton were injured for any length of time, coach Ron Rivera could plug in Russell Wilson without having to overhaul the offense. But the Panthers were interested in Wilson only if he slipped to a later round in the 2012 draft.
He didn’t. Seattle took him in the third round, and less than two years later Wilson was hoisting the Lombardi Trophy after the Seahawks beat Denver in the Super Bowl.
With Webb and Anderson in the fold, the Panthers are not expected to take a quarterback in this week’s draft.
Webb, the Vikings’ 2010 sixth-round draft pick, doesn’t have a wealth of experience. He started three games at quarterback for Minnesota, including a 24-10 playoff loss at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field in January 2013 when Ponder was out with a bruised triceps.
Webb was the first quarterback to start a playoff game without having thrown a pass during the regular season.
What he does have in his favor is a build and skill set similar to Newton’s: 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds
“People compare the athleticism a lot, say we play with the same type of style,” Webb said. “We’re both different in our own ways, but we do have the same skill set.”
Webb rushed for 2,774 career yards at Alabama-Birmingham, the third-highest total by a quarterback in NCAA history. After playing receiver as a sophomore, Webb started at quarterback his final two seasons and became the first player in NCAA history to pass for more than 2,000 yards and rush for more than 1,000 yards in consecutive years.
After not getting invited to the combine, Webb ran 40 yards in 4.43 seconds at the Blazers’ pro day, where he worked out as a receiver.
Webb said the year he spent as a receiver in Minnesota will help him as a quarterback.
“Quarterback’s my natural position. I’ve been playing it all my life, so it’s kind of second nature to me. But I think I learned a lot from the receiver position,” he said.
“When receivers come up to me and describe how they want to run their route and how the (defensive back) is playing them, I really have a sense of what they’re talking about because I’ve been out there and I know how the DB’s try to jam you and cut off your routes and things like that.”
Webb isn’t sure what will happen when Newton returns.
The Panthers only carried two quarterbacks on their active roster last season after Jimmy Clausen went on injured reserve during the preseason. In addition to Anderson and Webb, Caoolina also has practice squad quarterback Matt Blanchard.
For now, Webb is more concerned about learning the offense and getting to know his new teammates.
“I’m just coming in and trying to better myself, just do whatever I can to help the team,” he said. “I really like that style of offense. I think it will fit my talent and the way I play quarterback.”