EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — The crowd at Minnesota’s preseason games has given Teddy Bridgewater quite the welcome.
Anthony Barr is the one more likely to hear those cheers from Vikings fans throughout his rookie year.
The quarterback was always going to be the featured offseason acquisition for this team, considering the passing problems of the last four years, and the smiling soft-spoken kid coming off a high-profile career at Louisville has been met with great anticipation from the masses. Further proof: those “Teddy! Teddy! Teddy!” chants throughout his time on the field during the first two exhibitions.
In those same games, though, Barr’s play was just as obvious. The outside linebacker has a sack and a half, a quarterback pressure and a forced fumble so far.
“Doing all right. Getting better. Made some mistakes,” Barr said.
He won’t make a name for himself with measured comments like those, but the ninth overall pick in the draft — 23 spots ahead of Bridgewater — is poised to make a big impact on coach Mike Zimmer’s scheme. The converted fullback from UCLA, who played only two seasons on defense in college, has the combination of size and speed to be a disruptive and productive player for the Vikings if he can quickly adapt to the pace and the complexity of the NFL game.
Barr, so far, has shown he can.
“Anthony has so many good things going for him. He is extremely smart. He hardly makes the same mistake twice. He takes unbelievable notes, and he is a great athlete,” Zimmer said recently, before going on to praise the way Barr has handled his criticism: “He does not get shaken up, and he does not go in his shell.”
Barr, at 6-foot-5 and 255 pounds, has the prototypical pass-rusher body, and the Vikings have been trying to take advantage of that. He’s the starter in the base alignment at the strong side spot and stays on the field for the nickel package with Chad Greenway when the middle linebacker leaves for a third cornerback.
Barr, however, has been moved to defensive end at times in those passing situations with the nickel group as the Vikings work on varying his role with the goal of making it more effective and less predictable. The sack Barr recorded for a 9-yard loss at the end of the first half against Arizona on Saturday came during a play that started with him in a three-point stance with his hand on the turf.
“It’s fun, yeah,” Barr said. “It gives me a different look.”
Already, opposing tackles have begun to shift back a bit to give them a better chance of blocking Barr on his rush.
“He’s got great instinct. He’s a great kid, he works hard, he’s humble and he wants to be great,” Greenway said. “So the sky’s the limit for him.”
Barr’s progress has also eliminated one position of concern on a defense that still has several.
Jasper Brinkley and Audie Cole are continuing to compete for the middle linebacker job, and Zimmer said on Monday “it’s close.” Then there’s strong safety, with Chris Crocker, Kurt Coleman, Robert Blanton, Andrew Sendejo and Jamarca Sanford all remaining in the mix. Blanton, who has been bothered by a hamstring injury, was on track for a full week of action.
Xavier Rhodes and Captain Munnerlyn are set as the top two cornerbacks, but the nickel back spot is still wide open. Marcus Sherels played there extensively last Saturday. Rookie Jabari Price hurt his arm in that game, and Shaun Prater suffered a concussion. Then there’s Josh Robinson, who has been unable to stay healthy all camp.
“The other guy?” Zimmer said derisively, when asked about Robinson’s return. “Who knows?”
NOTES: Matt Cassel will start at QB again this Saturday at Kansas City, but Zimmer has declined to divulge the date he plans to pick the starter for the season. … DT Linval Joseph, out since a stray bullet hit him in the left calf during a nightclub shooting nine days ago, has increased his rehabilitation work but likely won’t play against the Chiefs, Zimmer said. The same goes for backup LB Gerald Hodges, who injured his left leg against the Cardinals.