Minnesota Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr is arguably the team’s most important player on the defensive side of the ball. In the first two games of the regular season, the only two players to play in more defensive snaps than Barr are safety Harrison Smith and cornerback Xavier Rhodes. They have both played in all 151 defensive snaps, where Barr has played in 148 of the defensive snaps.
Since he is on the field for a vast majority of the plays and operates primarily in the middle of the field, head coach Mike Zimmer has entrusted Barr with the radio communications. That can be a lot of responsibility for a second-year player, but it also speaks to the confidence that the coaching staff has in him.
That was not the case after they first selected him with the No. 9 overall pick in the 2014 draft. He was a big, fast, athletic player, but there was still a lot he needed to work on, the biggest thing being defending the pass. But this year it seems to be a different story.
“He hadn’t really played a lot of linebacker in college,” said defensive coordinator George Edwards. “Playing two years at the position, coming in that was a concern, he exhibited it out on the practice field, but getting it to the game, he’s done well with it. He’s come in and he’s taken the bull by the horns and accepted the challenges that we presented him with, whether it’s covering a back, whether it’s rushing, no matter what it’s been. I think he’s done a good job and you’ll continue to see him with more experience, get better as we move down the road.”
Barr even admitted that he has gotten a lot better in pass coverage and a big part of that is just because he now feels more comfortable doing it. He knows that he still has a lot of work to do in that area of his development, but he is now more aware of different route combinations and where he is supposed to be on the field.
But he also knows that defending the pass, especially with today’s pass-happy offenses, is something that he will always need to work on perfecting.
“It’s an ever-revolving thing,” Barr said. “You never really have it. I think right when you think you do feel comfortable, that’s when you don’t have it. It’s just about continuing to watch film and studying, continuing to try to hone in on things that maybe the offense might tip you off on, little things like that.”
Along with being more comfortable on the field, Barr has also felt a lot more comfortable in Zimmer’s defense. Last year he had to start from scratch learning the defense, but now he has a year under his belt and better understands what is trying to be accomplished on every play.
In Zimmer’s defense, players often don’t know who they are responsible for covering until the ball is snapped. For that reason it is important for every player on the defense to know what the offense is trying to do and what they need to do to defend it. If one player is out of sync with the rest, it can lead to a blown coverage.
“Our defense is so that we have adjustments that we make within the play,” Barr said. “So once the play starts to develop we make those adjustments during that time. So it’s really a quick second adjustment, whether it’s man or zone. Your technique could end up changing once the ball is snapped, so it’s just a matter of being aware of the situation and understanding what the offense is trying to do.”
Because of the way the Vikings run their defense, teams such as the San Diego Chargers, who they face this Sunday, can be a real challenge. The Chargers run a fast-paced, high-tempo offense and can run a multitude of plays out of a single formation while in the no-huddle.
When they do this, it takes extra time for the defense to figure out what play the offense is running and what they are trying to do.
“It’s definitely tough and (Philip) Rivers does a good job at getting his guys where he wants them to be and getting the ball out of his hands,” Barr said. “These Chargers are a great offensive team, he’s a great quarterback with a lot of good weapons, so it’s going to be a real challenge for us and I think we’re up for the task.”
According to Barr, the best thing to do in order to defend an offense like the Chargers’ is to watch extra film and try to recognize little nuances they do that might tip off the play. Then it is just a matter of utilizing what they saw on tape on game day.