When Mike Zimmer took over as head coach for the Minnesota Vikings he made it clear early on that he wanted to build the team around a sturdy defense. With his very first draft pick as a head coach, the Vikings selected the player he believed the defense could one day focus around, Anthony Barr.
Coming out of college, Barr was considered a freak athlete. He measured 6-foot-5, 255 pounds and ran a 4.66 40-yard dash. He was also the top performer for his position grouping in the three-cone drill with a time of 6.82 seconds.
The biggest question surrounding Barr was how quickly he would be able to acclimate to playing a traditional linebacker role in the NFL. He had only played linebacker for two years at UCLA and even then he was primarily playing on the line of scrimmage and never did much more than rush the passer. He never really had to read offenses or drop back into coverage.
Zimmer knew this was a risk when he drafted Barr, but he has been pleasantly surprised with how quickly the young linebacker has adapted. Barr continues to impress his coach with the things he is able to do on the field, the things he is able to pick up and how quickly he has been able to develop.
“Actually, there’s a big difference when he’s in the ballgame because he sees things – sometimes I’m really amazed at a guy that’s a second-year linebacker that didn’t play behind the line in college, that played two years at defensive end, is basically what he was,” Zimmer said. “Some of the things he can do and see and react to, it’s pretty special. I think going forward when he has a full offseason and able to get some strength and some of those things because he’s a great athlete but he’s also really smart. He sees things fast and that combination in guys and once he continues to develop some more strength and then some of the other things he still needs to work on – there really is no limit for his athletic ability for him because he has the other intangibles besides just being an athlete.”
Zimmer is not the only one to recognize Barr’s natural ability to learn, though. His teammates all see what he is able to do on a daily basis, and while they are all impressed they have just come to expect it from him.
Veteran defensive end Brian Robison believes Barr is ahead of the curve compared to where most guys in his situation would be and he is always impressed with Barr’s ability to pick things up so quickly. He already considers Barr to be one of the top linebackers in the NFL and is excited to watch him continue to progress.
“It’s kind of funny; I think he’s one of those guys that’s near the top of the game right now,” Robison said. “I think every year he’s just going to get better and better and he’s got a bright future in this league.”
While his teammates are impressed, some become even a little envious of Barr’s ability to pick things up quickly. Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn is an undersized cornerback at 5-foot-9, 195 pounds and had to work hard to get to where he is.
He can’t help but rip on the young linebacker from time to time about how easily everything seems to come to Barr.
“He just makes everything look easy, man,” Munnerlyn said. “I always mess with him about that. I had to work hard to get what I got and he makes everything look easy. He’s 6-5 and running a 4.4 and you can tackle like that and can defend passes like that. I always tease him about, ‘Man why you just make everything look so easy?’ He’s like, ‘I don’t know, it’s just easy to me.’ I’m like, ‘Whoa.’ I’m a guy, I got to stretch I got to pull, I got to cheat sometimes and I got to do a lot of things to get what I got. But at the same time he’s a special athlete and I’m glad he’s on my team.”
When you ask Barr about it, he admits that the game of football comes easily to him, but he is not sure why. He spends a lot of time in meeting rooms and the film room and tries to stay focused out on the field, and he thinks that’s what allows him to go out and not have to think twice about what he is doing.
“I think I learn faster than the average person,” he said. “It’s really not that difficult for me, honestly. It’s just throughout the course of a game things can get confusing, bullets are flying, you can make a mistake here or there, but for the most part I feel pretty confident when asked to do something.”
He admitted he still has a lot to learn, though, but at the ripe old age of 23 years old he should still have plenty of time to smooth out the rough edges. And you can be sure that Zimmer is planning to keep him around as long as possible and make sure he remains a staple in the middle of his defense.
“It’s only my second year in the NFL and my fourth year at the position, so there’s still a lot to learn,” Barr said. “We could sit here all day about things I need to improve on. It’s not one certain thing I want to get better at. It covers the entire board, so I’m still working on becoming a better player.”