As if Anthony Barr’s transition to the NFL isn’t enough, he is trying to learn the linebacker position going up against a Norv Turner offense flush with shifts, motions and play-actions every day in practice.
Barr is pushing for a starting role with the Vikings, but after only two years as a linebacker in college, there is much to learn, especially playing in a defense that he calls “completely different” from the one the UCLA Bruins used.
“At UCLA, I was used primarily on the line in a 3-4 defense, outside guy,” Barr said. “There is some similarity, some carryover, I guess when we’re in an under defense, but for the most part I’m behind the ball. I’ve got to use my eyes more. I think that’s the key, and read my keys a little better. That’s probably the biggest difference.”
His eyes are processing a lot of information these days. Turner’s offense is known for using its offensive weapons well, but the offensive coordinator also likes to set things up for his quarterbacks to get a lot of information about the defense before the snaps by shifting and sending people in motion.
Perhaps no other player in the front seven of the defense is trying to disguise his intentions as much as Barr because of the variety of ways in which he can be used.
“All the shifts and motions, all the stuff that (Turner) does, I know it’s going to be good for me going forward because I’ll be used to that when we get to a live situation, a real-game situation,” Barr said. “I don’t think many teams motion and shift as much as he does. It’s definitely good to practice that so when it comes to the game I can adjust on the fly.”
The Vikings selected Barr ninth overall. Because he played only two years at linebacker in college – previously spending time in the offensive backfield – some saw his skills as too raw to be a worthy of top-10 status.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer disagreed with that assessment.
“My expectations of him are probably higher than they are for anybody else. I have seen great things out of him,” Zimmer said. “He doesn’t make mistakes. There was a play (early in camp) that he got a lead block on and knocked the living dog out of the guy that came to block him. He got off and made the play, he’s got tremendous, tremendous physical abilities.”
Barr started 27 games at linebacker for UCLA, producing 151 tackles, including 40½ for losses, 23½ sacks, six quarterback pressures, nine force fumbles and four fumble recoveries.
While his lack of sustained experienced means his overall linebacker skills might not be as refined as some others, the Vikings saw loads of athleticism.
“We really like what we saw of him rushing in college. We like the possibility of getting him in some matchups, in some rush situations,” defensive coordinator George Edwards said. “From that aspect of it, yes, we are excited about him having that unique skillset at that position, because now all of a sudden you get to rush him against some of the things people are doing protection-wise, getting him in a position to really have some success. We are excited with the skill set that he has got. He has really shown the flash; you have seen him get into positions that other guys haven’t been able to. So from that aspect of it, we just want to see him grow and be consistent as we keep going through camp.”
Initially, rushing the passer seems to be Barr’s strength and one the Vikings will play toward. Given his combination of size (6-foot-4, 255 pounds) and speed (4.44 in the 40-yard dash), that would seem to be the ideal way to use him early.
Now it’s just a matter of figuring out how and how often they can use him.
“We are just really working him through it right now and seeing skillset-wise where we are going to predominantly play him most of the times,” Edwards said. “We will be in and out of a lot of different packages to take advantage of our personnel.”
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Turner’s offense challenging rookie Barr
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