Anthony Barr has proven there isn’t anything he can’t do as an NFL linebacker.
Except stay healthy for 16 games.
In 2014, the rookie first-round draft pick was 12 games into a case for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year when a knee injury ended his season. In Week 12 at Atlanta last year, he posted the signature game of his young career, an All-Pro-caliber display of instinct, skill and remarkable versatility but left late in the game because of a groin injury. He missed all but the opening drive of the following week’s loss to Seattle and was inactive for the next two games.
Fellow linebacker Chad Greenway was asked to recall Barr’s performance in that 20-10 win over the Falcons. Greenway shook his head, as anyone would.
The 6-5, 255-pound Barr had nine tackles, seven solo. He had a strip sack, a pass defense and, oh yeah, he ran down running back Tevin Coleman 45 yards from the line of scrimmage and popped the ball loose for a turnover.
“Anthony’s ceiling is obviously very high,” Greenway said. “He’s got so much talent, but he’s also very heady. The most impressive part of his game, over and above physically, is just his mental aspect. The way he can prepare, the way he can take in information, the way he can handle the scheme on game day.”
But Barr’s luck with injuries during stretch runs hasn’t been ideal. He suffered a broken hand against the Rams a month before the Falcons game. He struggled for a few weeks and obviously was feeling normal again when he arrived in Atlanta.
For the Vikings’ linebacking crew to elevate its game to the next level, good health is vital. There’s some depth, but nothing that comes close to matching the three-down duo of Barr, 24, and middle linebacker Eric Kendricks, also 24. Kendricks led the team in tackles last year but also missed two games because of injuries.
“We were pretty proud of our production at linebacker,” said Greenway, a starter who had 2½ sacks and an interception return for a touchdown. “Obviously, we want to continue to improve. But the biggest thing is to keep those two guys healthy, and the rest of us come in and fill our roles.”
Greenway once went seven-plus seasons without missing a game because of injury. He said there are things players can do to prepare their bodies against injuries, but “it’s pretty much the luck of the draw.”
“Anthony’s a big guy, but he’s also very athletic, so he’s naturally putting himself in positions that are a little awkward,” Greenway said. “He takes care of his body. You just hope he comes out healthy for years at a time.”