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Top 5 Bright Spots of 2010: #5

Posted Jan 3, 2011

Coming in at #5 in the Top 5 bright spots of the 2010 season is the impact the 2010 draft class had on the Vikings and the promising future certain rookies hold.

The Vikings came into the 2010 season with questions at a few different positions. Selecting a QB was not high on their list, but the Vikings drafted QB Joe Webb out of the University of Alabama-Birmingham with their 6th-round choice. And even though Webb played QB for much of his collegiate career, the Vikings coaching staff drafted him with the intention of converting him to WR.

Rookie mini-camp rolled around and Webb was moved back to his natural position. During the preseason Webb displayed his superior athleticism throughout training camp and in preseason games and earned the role of the #3 QB on the 53-man roster for the regular season.

Webb was not activated for a game until the December 5 victory over the Buffalo Bills where he started the game as the kickoff return man and took the opening kickoff 30 yards. He played a few snaps at WR but suffered a hamstring injury while playing on special teams early in the game.

Webb returned to the field against the NY Giants the following week, coming in at QB late in the game after Tarvaris Jackson was sidelined with a toe injury. He got his first significant playing time against the Chicago Bears at TCF Bank Stadium on December 20 after Brett Favre left the game with a concussion in the 1st quarter. Webb posted mediocre numbers passing the ball – completing 15 of 26 passes for 129 yards and 2 INTs – but showed his ability to evade defenders when scrambling out of the pocket.

Down 27-7 with 9:55 remaining in 3rd quarter, Webb exhibited his athleticism on a 1st and 10 attempt from the Bears 13. Webb rolled out to the right side on a play-action fake, pulled the ball down after a blitz by Bears LB Lance Briggs and beat 4 Bears defenders to the front-right pylon for the diving TD. The 13-yard score was his longest rush of the game.

The shining moment in Webb’s young career was undoubtedly his performance against the Philadelphia Eagles. Webb made his first-career NFL start, guiding the Vikings to an improbable 24-14 upset victory on the road. He completed 17 of 26 passes for 195 yards with 6 carries for 31 yards and a TD. But was perhaps his most impressive stat was that he committed no turnovers.

Webb finished the season completing 54 of 89 passes for 477 yards, 0 TDs and 3 INTs, including 18 carries for 120 yards and 2 TDs – numbers that can be improved upon during the 2011 season, as Webb may be vying for the Vikings starting QB role.

Another rookie in the offensive backfield that made his impact on the Vikings was RB Toby Gerhart.

After the departure of backup RB Chester Taylor prior to the season, the RB2 role was in serious question since Taylor served as an excellent 3rd down back and complement to Adrian Peterson in 2009.

The Vikings selected Gerhart with their 2nd pick in the 2nd round of the draft and it took him a while to get used to the pace of the game at the professional level, but he proved his capabilities as a suitable backup during the 17-13 road victory over the Washington Redskins on November 28. Gerhart carried the ball a career-high 22 times for 76 yards and a TD, including 2 receptions for 5 yards.

The former Stanford standout earned his first-career start in place of an injured Peterson on December 20 against the Bears. Gerhart rushed for a career-high 77 yards on 16 carries against one of the league’s premier rushing defenses.

“It was different,” Gerhart explained of the season on Monday while cleaning out his locker at Winter Park. “It was an honor, that was for sure. We definitely had some ups and downs, but as coach Frazier said in his meeting today, it’s behind us now. We got to self-evaluate, see what we need to improve on and work towards getting that ring next year, 2011.”

Gerhart finished the season with 81 carries for 322 yards (4.0 yards per carry) and a TD with 21 receptions for 167 yards.

Other rookies that left their mark on the 2010 season for the Vikings were G Chris DeGeare and CB Chris Cook.

DeGeare provided the offensive line with versatility to a unit that was plagued with injuries. His most notable role came when Steve Hutchinson was lost for the season with a hand injury following the Redskins game. The 6-4, 325-pounder started the last 5 games of the season in Hutchinson’s place and blocked for a 100-yard rusher in 2 of those games.

Cook was hampered with knee injuries throughout the entire year and eventually placed on Injured Reserve after the December 13 loss to the Giants. But the rookie CB made an impact on the defense around midseason by starting in 4 consecutive games and recorded 16 combined tackles during that stretch.

Cook finished the season with 21 total tackles and will look to have a successful rehabilitation during the offseason. He will be relied upon to provide depth in the secondary and may possibly be a regular starter in 2011.

These 4 rookies, in particular, will have a significant impact on the success of the Vikings in 2011, and their individual performances this year suggest that next season will be a productive one. And that’s why the impact the rookies had on the Vikings this season deserves #5 on the “Top 5” bright spots of the 2010 season.