Vikings’ Barr back to honing pass-rush skills

Anthony Barr showed impressive pass-rushing acumen as a rookie and he’s looking to get even better at that with his varied responsibilities.

Mike Zimmer and the rest of the Vikings coaching staff have often talked about getting the best 11 players on the field for certain situations, even if that means moving players from their regular position into a different position entirely. This is why Zimmer likes having versatile players to work with because they give him the flexibility to use them in multiple ways.

That is one reason why the Vikings drafted Anthony Barr in the first round a year ago. He is a freak athlete, a talented player and he has the ability to succeed in multiple positions on defense. He primarily plays linebacker but he got some snaps in as a defensive end a year ago and it looks like the coaching staff is planning to use him there again in 2015.

“We did that all of last year, he did it some in some games and that’s one of the things he has,” defensive coordinator George Edwards said. “He is a good pass rusher, which would also help him blitzing off the outside edge from that aspect of it. But, yes, that is a possibility as we progress through the rest of training camp and into the preseason. So we will just continue on with that evaluation and keep working him with those things. I think it’s good for him whether he’s a defensive end rushing outside or whether he’s a linebacker coming off the outside edge.”

The Vikings have been putting Barr in one-on-one drills with offensive tackles so they can work with him when he has his hand in the dirt. Rushing the passer isn’t something he was able to work on very much in the offseason so the coaches are making sure he gets ample time this training camp to do that.

“He hadn’t really done it a lot in the offseason, this past offseason, so we are getting him back into pass rushing, which we did a lot of last year,” Edwards said.

While at UCLA, Barr played as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense where he was primarily used as an edge rusher. This meant that he had to go through a big learning curve when he got to Minnesota and found out that the coaches wanted him to play as an off-the-ball linebacker. He really had to learn what to do with his eyes, but he is now feeling more comfortable with that.

“Playing off the ball is something I hadn’t done before,” Barr said when asked what the bigger transition was, playing linebacker or on the line. “Trying to get my eyes right was pretty tough for me at first, but I feel like I’m getting more comfortable.”

Barr believes that it is what you do with your eyes that is the biggest difference between playing off the ball and up on the line rushing. You have to look in different places on the field and look for different things while playing the two positions, so it took him time to make the transition when he first got into game situations.

“Just your eyes are in different places and you kind of got more in front of you in the backfield when you’re on the ball,” he said. “When you’re off the ball you kind of look at the running back and kind of mirror his steps, so I think that’s probably one of the bigger differences.”

In the 12 games that Barr played in as a rookie he was able to record four sacks. That is not a bad number, but it seems as though both he and the coaching staff would like that number to be higher. By moving him closer to the line stacked behind a defensive end in certain packages, he should have plenty of chances to get to the quarterback more often during his second season.

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