We should not be surprised to see Anthony Barr playing right defensive end between August and January. Barr, according to media reports, rotates into the Vikings’ defensive line grouping for a portion of his practices.
Why take a starting linebacker and have him practice with defensive linemen? It could be merely be tinkering on the part of head coach Mike Zimmer and his defensive staff. Perhaps we are witnessing a public bluff by Zimmer. He may simply be using media reports to give 2018 opponents one more thing to think about. It may be nothing more than exposing Barr to hand-fighting techniques of established ends Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter, Brian Robison and tackle Sheldon Richardson.
Or, it could mean that when Griffen or Hunter need a blow in the regular season, the Vikings will use Barr at defensive end for a series or two.
”We are just trying to utilize our guys the best way we can,” Zimmer told the Associated Press’ Dave Campbell. ”If a guy has a skill set of being possibly a pass rusher, then we’re going to look at him and see if he can be a pass rusher. If a guy’s a great inside cover guy, then we’re going to try and look at him there.”
At mini-camp in June, Barr told the Star Tribune that he is willing to do whatever it takes to help the Vikings:
“I hadn’t really worked on it my first four years here,” said Barr, who has 10.5 sacks in four NFL seasons. “Now having the time to work on it, it’s beneficial. I’ve still got a long way to go. It’s not as easy as it looks watching Everson do it.”
The Vikings have had linebackers start plays with a hand on the earth before. In fact, the most vivid example had the same physical dimensions of Barr and the same kind of speed and strength.
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When Chris Doleman was drafted in the first round in 1985, he stood 6-feet-5, weighed 250 pounds and ran the 40-yard sprint in 4.5 seconds. Barr mirrors Doleman’s size and weight, and his 40 time was close to Doleman’s. After a season and a half of promising but nondescript play as linebacker, Doleman moved to defensive end because of an injury to Mark Mullaney. Doleman played his first game as defensive end against Washington on Nov. 2, 1986. After finishing with three sacks in four games, Minnesota decided he would make a bigger impact there.
Playing defensive end put Doleman in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Had Doleman played his whole career as linebacker, few would remember him today.
Doleman started 12 games at end in 1987, recording 11 sacks, 57 tackles and six forced fumbles. The Vikings would be gleeful if they could get that kind of production over 16 games from Barr, either at linebacker, end or a hybrid.
“There are certain things I feel like I understand now, being here five years,” Barr told Krammer. “Stuff I’ve done a thousand times now, where I feel they trust me to go do some other stuff. Being with the D-line for five to 10 minutes a day may not seem like a lot, but it adds up.”
Right now the prospect of Barr at end is nothing more than an interesting idea. Still, exhibition games are the petri dishes of the NFL—perfect labs to see if ideas can grow. We will see if the Vikings experiment with Barr at end in exhibition games. The first one is approaching fast: the Vikings travel to Denver on Saturday, Aug. 11.
Extra Points: Doleman, 56, retired as the fourth-ranked sack leader of all-time with 150.5 sacks. He also intercepted eight passes, two of which he returned for touchdowns. Doleman made eight Pro Bowls, six with the Vikings and once each as a member of the Falcons and the 49ers. He also made first-team All-Pro in 1987, 1989, and 1992 and first-team All-NFC four times. Doleman is a member of the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1990s. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2012. He had brain surgery earlier this year and is recovering.