Pac 12 conference quarterbacks probably couldn’t tell whenever Anthony Barr crashed into them that the UCLA outside linebacker had just started lining up on defense in his junior season.
His inexperience makes it all the more surprising that Barr had 23.5 sacks in his final two seasons at UCLA and that he had more tackles for a loss than South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney and Buffalo's Khalil Mack over that span. Not bad for a 6-foot-5 running back turned star outside linebacker.
Still, despite two successful college seasons, Barr has a lot to learn to make that kind of impact in the NFL.
“He has above average physical and athletic traits,” CBS Sports draft analyst Dane Brugler said. “But the technique, hand use and consistency needs to catch up before he's a complete football player. Barr needs to prove he's more than just a one-trick pony and grasp defensive concepts, but he adapted quickly to the defensive side of the ball, moving over from offense two years ago.”
Asked what he needs to work on to succeed in the NFL, Barr also mentioned his mitts.
“Using my hands is what I need to improve on most, getting off blocks and using counter moves are things that are still new to me because I’ve only done it for such a short amount of time,” he said. “But I believe if I continue to work at it and continue to dedicate myself to it I’ll be OK.”
General manager Rick Spielman said Thursday that Barr has “very good football instincts” for a kid who only played outside linebacker for two years. And he thinks that Barr not only has the athleticism to rush off the edge, but also drop into coverage, whether he is buzzing the flats or running with tight ends down the seams. He said Barr’s technique needs refinement, though.
“Where he is going to have to get better, more likely, is just technical things. With the history of Coach Zimmer and his staff that is something that is right in their wheelhouse,” Spielman said. “That is one thing they do a great job with. We are already seeing the results in a lot of the things with our current players right now.”
Enter the Fixer. In Cincinnati, Mike Zimmer was able to develop Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap, turning them from projects into productive pass rushers. Barr isn’t as tall or as heavy as those two defensive ends, but Zimmer says he has never coached a pass rusher who had Barr’s size and speed combo. No wonder he is so excited to take this hunk of clay and try to mold him into a star.
Barr sounds excited to get to work, too, knowing Zimmer’s reputation as a defensive teacher.
“These are very technical coaches, very detail oriented,” Barr said. “I’m a very detail- oriented guy myself, so I’m looking forward to getting with these guys and improving my game.”
There is still a lot of potentiantal for growth, but it's up to him to put in the time and effort.