LOS ANGELES — UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr was far from the player with the most to prove at Tuesday’s UCLA Pro Timing Day, but the way he attacked each drill you would never know.
The big news out of Westwood is that the potential top-10 pick likely solidified that status with a 4.45 40-yard dash time — an improvement of .22 since the NFL Combine two weeks ago. He also benched more reps, improved his broad jump and showed why he’s one of the most coveted players in the 2014 NFL Draft.
The debate continues to rage on whether it’s Barr or Buffalo’s Khalil Mack at the top of this year’s linebacker class and the improvements both have made since the combine have done plenty to fan the flames.
"After he came back from the combine he went back to work coach (Sal) Alosi and made some huge gains," Mora said. "I think definitely in the top-10 from what I got from the guys today. And they understand with Anthony that the ceiling is so high, he’s only been playing the position for two years."
Alosi, a noted football specialist with as much NFL experience as the rest of Jim Mora’s pro-heavy staff, put Barr through a brutal two weeks but the work clearly showed.
"He comes out here today and runs a 4.45, at 247 pounds, 6-foot-4 1/2. And then he goes out and benches 19 times which is a four rep-improvement from two weeks ago and they understand that there’s so much room for growth," Mora said.
Barr looked every bit the part physically. He was clearly the star of the show and faced that challenge head on. His stock was rumored to have dropped after a performance in Indianapolis that was deemed good but not great and he came out Tuesday with a clear chip on his shoulder.
While his head coach feels that the combine is not always truly indicative of a player’s true potential, Barr wasn’t satisfied.
"That really upset me. I was more frustrated with myself, more disappointed in myself. That’s just the way I am, I’m a competitor," Barr said. "I was frustrated and it was my mission today to put that behind me."
The Loyola High product burst onto the scene as a junior after a move to linebacker. By all accounts, he wasn’t used in the right way in former UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel’s system and when he was replaced by Mora, the two came to the conclusion that he should move to linebacker. That season, he was second in the nation in sacks and his vicious hit on former USC quarterback Matt Barkley cemented both his presence and his dominance on the defensive side of the ball.
He hasn’t let up since then and neither has his confidence. Barr has been vocal about where he thinks he should be drafted — No. 1 overall. After Tuesday’s performance, he’s not backing down off that claim one bit.
"I never change my expectations — I shoot for the sky," Barr said. "What’s done is done and I can’t go back and change that but I can improve. I can kind of come out there and put that stuff to rest and let these numbers kind of speak for themselves."