Barr finally able to accelerate learning curve with Vikings

Linebacker Anthony Barr was drafted by Minnesota with the ninth-overall pick earlier this spring, and he hasn't had much time to learn the Vikings' defensive system, due to UCLA's spring academic schedule.

Bruce Kluckhohn

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Almost everywhere linebackers coach Adam Zimmer goes, Anthony Barr isn’t too far behind.

The Minnesota Vikings’ linebacker coach and the first-round pick are nearly inseparable out on the practice field for the team’s three-day mandatory minicamp. It’s quite the contrast from the coaching Barr’s seen since being selected in May’s NFL Draft.

Barr was left to study film and the playbook on his own while finishing classes at UCLA. Zimmer visited a few times, but their interaction was limited to phone calls and the online video service, Skype.

"No, it definitely helped," Barr said Wednesday of the prep work with the team over the past month. "Coach Zim’s been great with me, flying out to Cali a couple times to meet with me, meeting with me over the phone, watching film together. It’s helped. I’m still behind, but I feel good."

Barr’s introduction to the NFL was brief. He was drafted by Minnesota with the ninth-overall pick. A day in Minnesota for introductions was followed by another trip home for classes before he returned for the rookie minicamp the following weekend. Since then, Barr’s only been a Vikings linebacker in spirit.

Not quite the exciting first month expected of becoming an NFL player.

"Yeah, man, I was real bored; the longest four weeks, really," Barr said of being back at school since the draft. "It was a good time for me to kind of decompress a little bit and get my mind right for this."

Along with new teammates Scott Crichton (Oregon State, selected in the third round) and David Yankey (Stanford, fifth round), Barr had to return to school with UCLA still using the quarters system.

Barr said the time with coaches has proven to be beneficial. Since returning, Barr has been used all over the field. On back-to-back plays on Wednesday, he had his hand in the ground lined up as the right defensive end before standing up and rushing from off the center as a linebacker.

"I have a lot of responsibilities, a lot of stuff to learn," Barr said. "But it’s something I’m asked to do, something I’m willing to do, something I want to do. I just want to help this team win, so whatever they ask of me, that’s what I’m going to do."

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Barr said he’s never played with his hand in the ground. He was a pass-rushing specialist at UCLA 23.5 sacks the past two seasons, but it was always as a linebacker standing up and using his speed off the edge. Barr worked on different techniques in the time he was away after getting some specific drills from coaches.

Adjustment is nothing new for Barr, who only played linebacker for two years at UCLA after switching from running back.

"Out of those two years, he wore a lot of hats for them," Edwards said. "He’s doing a lot of similar things that we’re asking him to do, whether its rush the passer, whether its drop back in coverage, playing off the ball a little bit more than he probably has in the past. But from that aspect of it, right now we’re just trying to get him in those positions, look at his skill set, evaluate him and try to get the most out of his ability."

Being asked to do many different things might lengthen Barr’s learning curve. But Edwards believes Barr’s intelligence shines in how he’s responded to different tasks.

"We kind of had a big install in yesterday, his first day back for this mandatory minicamp, and he seemed to understand the concepts of what it is we’re trying to teach right off the bat," Edwards said. "So from that aspect of it, he can transition from the meeting room to the field. And it’s always a pleasure as a coach when you’ve got a guy that can transition, that can see it in your meeting room, you walk out on the field, you walk through it and all of a sudden you’re taking live reps at it and he can adjust and adapt to it and be in good shape as far as his responsibility by the call."

The transition hasn’t been seamless. Barr said he wasn’t nervous in returning to practice and mistakes are bound to happen. He said he’s beginning to feel more comfortable, but learning the verbiage of the defensive scheme is still coming.

"There’s still a lot that I confuse, and I kind of mix up coverages and responsibilities sometimes," Barr said. "It’s the names, I think, more than my actual responsibility. So, once I get that down, I’ll be alright."

Meanwhile, he’ll stick close by Zimmer and learn as Zimmer coaches everyone.

"Just whoever he coaches up, make sure that I’m listening because that could be me at some point," Barr said. "So, just always be around him and always pick up on what he’s trying to say."

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