Every business has one employee who does the jobs others won’t or can’t. The employee is never a star. But if he or she leaves, business quietly implodes. Joe Webb is that employee for the Carolina Panthers.
How many positions do you play?
“How many do I know or how many do I play?” Webb asks from in front of his locker. “I know all of them. I play quarterback, wide receiver, kick return, punt return, personal protector and kickoff. It depends on the week.”
Webb, 28, also played offensive line in pee-wee football in his native Birmingham, Ala. At Alabama-Birmingham he briefly played safety.
“Quarterback is my first love,” he said, adding that they love him at quarterback in Birmingham.
As versatile as you are, you might be Carolina’s best athlete.
“I let other people speak,” Webb said. “God blessed me with a special talent, and I just try to use the tools He gave me.”
He won’t say he’s the team’s best athlete.
Cam Newton, who merely plays quarterback, might be the reason. Newton sits at the next locker. When I ask Webb if he’s the team’s best athlete, Newton dramatically cocks his head and moves his ear closer to us to make clear that he’s listening.
“You don’t want to say yes,” Newton said. “He knows he can’t. He’s not even the best athlete in the (quarterbacks) meeting room.”
“You know better than that,” Webb said.
Webb might not be Carolina’s best athlete, but he leads the team in meetings. How much time do you spend in meeting rooms, and how do you keep your assignments straight?
“The main thing is just be physical, and beat them to the ball,” Webb says about special teams. “A lot of guys might take me lightly because they see I’m a quarterback.”
You can’t blame them. Quarterbacks are accustomed to being catered to and protected. If a quarterback were a drink, he’d be a latte with skim milk. If special teams were a drink, they’d be domestic beer in a crushed aluminum can.
When a quarterback treads on the special-teams-tough-guy turf, do opponents talk?
“Yeah, yeah,” Webb said. “A lot of guys, the first thing I get is, ‘What’s this quarterback doing out here?’ I have to show ‘em that I belong out here too, and can play the position just as good as they can.”
Minnesota drafted Webb in the sixth round out of Alabama-Birmingham a year before the Panthers drafted Newton. Webb played four seasons for the Vikings. He had a 200-yard passing game and a 109-yard rushing game, and he scored on a 65-yard run.
The Panthers signed him last season. Newton was hurt, and at 6-4 and 235 pounds, Webb was almost Newton’s size.
Do you honestly like special teams?
“It’s fun to me,” Webb said. “One play in, one play out, give it all you got.”
Many teams don’t offer a roster spot to a third quarterback (Derek Anderson is Carolina’s second-team quarterback). But those teams don’t have a quarterback who is willing to break up a wedge to get to a kick returner.
“Remember Hank Bauer, Hammering Hank Bauer,” Carolina coach Ron Rivera asks.
Bauer was a special teams star in the late 1970s and early ‘80s for the San Diego Chargers. He now broadcasts the NFL for Sports USA radio.
“He did national radio (for the Carolina-Seattle game),” Rivera said. “He came by the hotel and he said, ‘You know who my favorite player on the team is?’ I was thinking through everybody.
“He looks at me and says: ‘I can’t believe you didn’t say Joe Webb. What he does for you guys is really kind of a neat thing.’ He said a quarterback running around hitting people is pretty impressive.”
Adds Rivera: “Probably the one thing that people don’t realize is how (Webb) is as a teammate. He’s an outstanding practice guy. He volunteers to do everything. He wants to do everything.”
He wants to play quarterback. Does he ever subtly bring that up?
“Oh, yeah,” Rivera said. “I wouldn’t say subtly, either. But he just says, ‘I’ll do whatever you need me to do, coach.’ He’ll say quarterback and he goes go down the list off all the positions he can play.”
Come on, Cam Newton. If a guy plays multiple positions that make multiple demands, he has to be a superior athlete.
“Joe’s a good athlete,” Newton said. “You can tell him I said it. He’s not the best athlete in that (quarterbacks) room. It goes DA (Anderson) then me and then Joe.”
That’s a tough room.
“DA, then me, then (quarterbacks coach Ken) Dorsey, then Joe,” Newton said. “We got some studs at that position.”