The Minnesota Vikings coach staff ended mandatory minicamp trying to figure out how to best use their top draft pick, linebacker Anthony Barr.
That task was made more difficult by the UCLA product being forced to miss the team's 10 organized team activities because his school was still in session. That meant Barr attended the rookie minicamp the weekend after the draft, then had to return to UCLA for about a month to finish classes before resuming practice with the Vikings for three days, and now being off again until training camp.
Barr said he was "real bored" during his time away, but he likely won't be bored once training camp starts. The Vikings appear poised to use him in a variety of ways, meaning he will have to make up for lost time during the offseason.
"As we come in and the more comfortable they become systematically, they start to wear more different hats. Right now we just try them at different positions, working them in different techniques and fundamentals within the scheme. That's pretty much it," defensive coordinator George Edwards said of the rookies during minicamp earlier this month. "We will put the pieces together as we get to training camp and just kind of not to pigeon hole somebody to they're this or they're that. We try to take the skill set and what we're asking them to do. We've moved a lot of guys around since we have been here this offseason. We've worked a lot of different guys at different positions. That's what we've been trying to evaluate here this whole offseason as we progress down the road."
Barr was more stationary than most linebackers in some ways and more adaptable in other.
He appeared to settle in strictly as the strongside linebacker, but how he was being used differed dramatically from one defensive play to another. At times he played the traditional role of linebacker, executing an assignment based on what his offensive key dictated he do. At other times, Barr was up on the line of scrimmage as an additional pass rusher, which is expected to be a strength of his in head coach Mike Zimmer's defensive scheme.
"Right now we're kind of just working at different skill sets, different positions and keep on fitting in where his skill sets go," Edwards said. "So, systematically we are flexible enough that we can take his skill set and put him in positions where hopefully it helps us, most advantageous, whether rushing the passer, whether it's dropping in coverage – all of those things that he is able to bring to the table. We're just moving him around right now, working his different skill sets and just seeing where he fits."
Barr, who played only two years of defense at UCLA after starting his college career as a running back, said he hasn't worked with a hand down as a pass rusher before. So that's new, but so are plenty of other responsibilities and techniques the Vikings tasked him with during minicamp.
"I have a lot of responsibilities, a lot of stuff to learn. But it's something I'm asked to do, something I'm willing to do, something I want to do," he said. "I just want to help this team win, so whatever they ask of me, that's what I'm going to do."
Despite Barr being relatively new to the linebacker position, Edwards said he was asked to do a lot of different things for the Bruins, too.
"He wore a lot of hats from them. He's doing a lot of the similar things that we are asking him to do, whether it's rush the passer, whether it's drop back in coverage, playing off the ball a little bit more than he probably has in the past, but from that aspect of it, right now we're just trying to get him in those positions, look at his skill set, evaluate him and try to get the most out of his ability," Edwards said.
The defensive coordinator said Barr and the two other Pac-12 draftees – Scott Crichton and David Yankey – missed a lot of time but came back to minicamp mentally strong because of film work and Skype sessions they put in with their position coaches.
"His first day back for this mandatory minicamp, (Barr) seemed to understand the concepts of what it is we're trying to teach right off the bat, so from that aspect of it, he can transition from the meeting room to the field and that's always a pleasure to coach when you have got a guy that can transition," Edwards said. "He can see it in your meeting room, you walk out on the field, you walk through it and then all of the sudden you get taking live reps at it, he can adjust and adapt to it and be in good shape as far as his responsibility about a call."
That's good news for the Vikings, who appear to be prepared to ask for a lot of different responsibilities from Barr.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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