Notebook: Barr hits the 'learning curve' head on before training camp
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - Anthony Barr shuffled his feet to the right and placed his hand on the ground. To his left, Brian Robison stood up, slid right and hovered above the center before the ball was snapped.
As the Minnesota Vikings install various sub packages to Mike Zimmer's defense, first-round pick Anthony Barr has had to hit the ground running during this week's three-day minicamp after missing 10 Organized Team Activities to finish up his college career at UCLA.
"I was real bored, man. Longest four weeks, really," Barr said after Wednesday's practice. "It was good to decompress a little bit, get my mind right for this. There's a bit of a learning curve, missing all of the OTAs."
After just two years of playing defense as a Bruin, Barr has never played with his hand on the ground before - which is just one more step in the learning process as the rookie acclimates to playing defense in the NFL.
Barr has been slotted as the strong-side linebacker, but has moved all over Zimmer's defense, including along the line in either five-man fronts or four-man hybrid fronts that sees a defensive end like Robison stand up.
"He's only played defense two years in college, but out of those two years he wore a lot of hats for them," Defensive coordinator George Edwards said. "Systematically, we're flexible enough we can take his skill set and put him in position where it's most advantageous, whether it's rushing the passer or dropping into coverage and all those things he's able to bring to the table."
To keep him up to speed, linebackers coach Adam Zimmer visited Barr out in California, while also keeping in touch with him via phone and Skype to discuss film, scheme and techniques. In order to be ready for training camp, Barr said he intends to take a similar approach to get caught up.
"Just continue to do what I did when I was gone, communicate with coaches as much as I can," Barr said. "I don't know the rules, but stay in the loop as much as I can."
During that five-week off-period, "no player shall be permitted to participate in any organized workouts or organized football activity of any kind, or any football activity with any coach, on either a voluntary or involuntary basis, in connection or on behalf of the Club or a Club affiliate," per the CBA. Coaches should be able to communicate with players like Barr and defensive end Scott Crichton, who also missed OTAs to finish up school, for extra instruction before the training camp report date of July 24.
"I'm getting there, there's still a lot I confuse with different responsibilities sometimes," Barr said. "I feel like I'm coming along pretty good."
A limited role
The Vikings have been through this before.
In 2011, then-coach Leslie Frazier decided to place a limit on then-kick returner Percy Harvin, who was also a dynamic threat in the team's offense. This offseason, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer is in the same predicament with another star in Cordarrelle Patterson, who was the NFL's leading return man last season.
"Because he'll be more involved with the offense, I'm hoping to do what we did a couple years ago with Percy," Priefer said. "In 2011, we didn't use Percy a lot. In 2012, we changed our philosophy. If he gets a big return, he takes a play off, comes back out."
After seeing Patterson's 32.4 yards per return last season, Priefer would like to keep that weapon in his pocket for kickoff returns. However, the Vikings are currently trying to strike the right balance between his special teams and offensive roles - meaning he won't be the fulltime return man as he was last season.
The Vikings have worked a combination of Captain Munnerlyn, Jarius Wright, Adam Thielen, Jerick McKinnon and Kain Colter as kick/punt returners.
• The Vikings say it's an open competition at quarterback, but one seems left out of the mix. Quarterback throw counts for 11-on-11 team drills on Wednesday went: Teddy Bridgewater (17), Matt Cassel (14) and Christian Ponder (3).
• Brdigewater threw 15-for-17, just a day after going 13-of-15 in team drills. The rookie competed on nearly every pass except for one overthrow and a drop by receiver Jarius Wright.
• Cassel, who worked mainly with the first-team offense, had a few passes dropped and a few batted down as his line was counted up as 5-for-14. Marcus Sherels, Sharrif Floyd and Everson Griffen each had pass deflections against Cassel as teams are technically still not allowed to participate in full contact. Cordarrelle Patterson, Jerome Simpson and Adrian Peterson dropped passes from Cassel.
• Josh Robinson continued to run with the first-team defense alongside Xavier Rhodes and Captain Munnerlyn in nickel. Robert Blanton is still seeing reps alongside Harrison Smith at safety.
• Kevin Murphy and Antonio Richardson saw reps for Matt Kalil at left tackle. Kalil is still resting a sore knee. Fred Evans continued to spell Linval Joseph at nose tackle.
• Bud Grant's son, Mike Grant, was at practice, along with former Vikings guard Steve Hutchinson and former Gophers recruit Peter Westerhaus.