Carolina Panthers

Panthers do-everything Joe Webb’s versatility makes him a special player

Panthers do-it-all Joe Webb will play quarterback for most of the second half against the Tennessee Titans on Saturday, but his value comes from his versatility.
Panthers do-it-all Joe Webb will play quarterback for most of the second half against the Tennessee Titans on Saturday, but his value comes from his versatility. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

Carolina Panthers third-team quarterback Joe Webb figures to play a good chunk of the second half Saturday during the season’s second exhibition, at Tennessee.

If past preseason games are any indication, Webb will have ample opportunity to show off his scrambling ability while playing behind the backup linemen.

But Webb will leave his real mark – and likely further secure his roster spot – while playing special teams in the first half against the Titans.

Covering punts and returning kicks would seem to be odd jobs for the No. 3 quarterback, especially one who started a playoff game against Aaron Rodgers four seasons ago.

But Webb has embraced his role as the Panthers’ Swiss Army knife. And maintaining his humility in an ego-driven league has helped Webb maintain his place on the team.

“A lot of people take it for granted and they put their pride in the way. When guys get in the NFL, guys (say), ‘Ah, nobody’s going to change my position,’” Webb told the Observer earlier this week.

“There’s just a give-and-take to everything. If you’re doing what’s best for the team, it’s going to pay off in the long run.”

Few kids grow up dreaming of making it to the NFL as a special teams regular. It’s an often thankless job requiring players to sacrifice their bodies in order to hang on to one of the final spots on the 53-man roster.

Webb, 29, has put team success ahead of individual success at least since his senior year at his Birmingham (Ala.) high school, where one game he threw four touchdowns while playing with a broken wrist on his non-throwing hand.

Webb starred at his hometown school of Alabama-Birmingham, where his 2,774 career rushing yards were the third most by a quarterback in NCAA history.

NFL scouts weren’t sure what to make of Webb, who had a strong showing at UAB’s pro day after he was passed over for the combine. Minnesota drafted Webb in the sixth round in 2010, and he started only two games his first two seasons playing behind Brett Favre and then Christian Ponder.

‘Slash’ is born

Webb started the NFC wild-card game at Green Bay four years ago when Ponder was injured. Webb completed 11-of-30 passes for 180 yards in the Vikings’ 24-10 loss, after which critics blamed Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave for not giving Webb more chances to run.

The next season Webb was a wide receiver and special teams player in Minnesota, and by 2014 he was a Panther. Webb said he was of former Pittsburgh quarterback Kordell Stewart, nicknamed “Slash” because of his ability to play wide receiver and also run the ball.

Webb, 6-4 and 235 pounds, is more of a working man’s Slash – third-team QB, emergency running back and wideout and do-it-all special teams ace.

“We put Joe everywhere, other than kicker and punter,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “The thing that Joe gives you is that flexibility in terms of if he had to, he could play wide receiver. If he had to, he could play running back. If he had to, he could play quarterback.”

Webb ranked second on the Panthers with 12 special teams tackles in 2015. He returned five kickoffs in the postseason, including a 25-yarder against Denver in Super Bowl 50.

An outlet for aggression

Webb said special teams provide him a healthy outlet to take out his aggressions.

“On special teams you can be physical, you can be aggressive. Not so much at quarterback,” he said. “So I get all my payback from people trying to sack me and stuff on special teams.”

Panthers special teams regular Teddy Williams says Webb’s athleticism is overlooked because of his willingness to do the grunt work on special teams. While Williams and Colin Jones serve as the outside gunners on the punt team, Webb does a similar job from an inside alignment.

“Joe’s my guy. Most of the stuff that we’re on, he and I are flying down the field next to each other, especially like kickoff,” Williams said. “And then he’s like a third gunner on punt. So we feed off each other. When we’re getting doubled on the outside, we depend on him to come up the middle and force the ball back out to Colin or myself.”

Given his versatility, Webb seems like a lock to make the 53-man roster for the third year in a row. But Webb, who re-signed with the Panthers on a one-year contract, takes nothing for granted.

“I go to every camp as if I’m not on the team,” he said. “If you ever get comfortable and say, ‘I’m on the team,’ then you could easily fall off. You’ve got to always keep your edge in this league.”

Joseph Person: 704-358-5123, @josephperson

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