Much of the talk heading into the Vikings preseason opener Friday has been focused on quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, but just as important to Vikings coaches is going to be the progression of linebacker Anthony Barr, who will be making his pro debut on the defensive side.
Defensive coordinator George Edwards has been throwing a lot at Barr in the first two weeks of training camp, lining him up at linebacker and defensive end. Edwards intends to use Barr in a similar way that he was used in college to get the most out of their prized rookie.
“In college, you saw what they used him for,” Edwards said. “You saw him dropping, you saw him rushing, you saw him playing on the end of the line of scrimmage, you saw him in a four-down front rushing, playing the run and those kinds of things. The thing that stuck out is you saw him flash, you saw athleticism, you saw ability to be able to run and chase. He has pretty much come in and really concentrated on what it is to be a pro, as far as at the position and has done a good job, which is what we expected out of him. Once you get him in here, you see how smart he is. Usually if he messes up something, he comes back and cleans it up and he has got it. From that aspect of it, you are pleased of where he is at right now as we keep progressing.”
Edwards and the Vikings are doing a balancing act with Barr – trying to expose him to as many things as possible while at the same time not overwhelming him with information or expectations. It’s been a difficult process, but one that Barr and the coaches have handled well to this point without any visible signs of Barr suffering from overuse or information overload.
“You are always worried about that, especially for a guy that has only played defense for two years,” Edwards said. “But he comes in, he studies, he is preparing in the classroom, he can transfer it over to the field, he seems to be lining up and playing with it naturally, and being able to handle what it is we give to him assignment- and alignment-wise.”
One of the biggest questions at the time the Vikings drafted Barr was that he and veteran Chad Greenway played the same position, but the two of them are both on the field in the Vikings defense with Greenway officially listed as a weakside linebacker and Barr on the strong side. In the nickel defene, Greenway takes over the “middle” spot and Barr remains on the field, too. There were some concerns as to how the two would coexist on the field at the same time, but Edwards couldn’t be happier about the prospect of having both Barr and Greenway on the field at the same time.
“I like it a lot,” Edwards said. “Those are two guys that have a lot of ability to get done what we are trying to do, skillset-wise, as far as pressures, as far as coverage. Anthony, we have used him in a lot of different roles, from rushing to dropping, to a little bit of everything, so from that aspect of it we are just continuing to progress and trying to polish his tools as we keep working down the road at all those different positions.”
The Raiders will be the first true test of what Barr has learned to date in Vikings camp and there is no intention of dialing back his workload. He will continue to move from linebacker to defensive end and back again depending on the down and distance.
It has all been part of the defensive master plan for Barr – exploiting the things he does well and trying to minimize exposure to those areas where he needs work. The coaches haven’t been shy about moving Barr around and, to date, they have been very pleased with what they have seen bouncing him from the line to linebacker.
“We have been using him as an end throughout camp,” Edwards said. “If you look back, he has been in one-on-ones pretty much about every day – there has probably been one that he wasn’t. From that aspect of it, that’s part of his job as far as what we are asking him to do, he still has a long way to go as far as working the tools, and working with our defensive line coaches as far as what we are trying to get accomplished. From that aspect of it, we started him off from day one doing those things, knowing he could be a part of that as far as his jobs.”
So how much of Barr will we see tomorrow night? The Vikings have said that second-string QB Teddy Bridgewater will see time with the first team offense, sending the clear signal that the starters on offense will play more than just the perfunctory single series. The same it would seem is the case on defense and head coach Mike Zimmer won’t call off Barr and the rest of the first-team defense until he’s satisfied that they have taken what has been taught in practice and can translate that instruction to the field.
“All I can say is Coach Zimmer told them (Monday), right now we are going into this game prepared to play and we are going to play until he is satisfied with where we are and we know we need reps with the new system,” Edwards said. “It’s a lot of new players, a lot of young players in the system. In that aspect of it, he’s told them until he is satisfied with it and pulls them out of the game.”
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
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