Anthony Barr, the ninth overall pick out of UCLA, had himself a fine rookie season. The Minnesota Vikings linebacker had 70 tackles, four sacks, two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and a touchdown.
All in just 12 games.
“It was awesome,” Barr said on Tiki and Tierney. “I had a lot of fun. I learned a lot, made some great friendships, my teammates were awesome this year, (and) my coaching staff really helped me progress, I believe, throughout the season.”
And then came a knee injury, which forced Barr to miss the final four games of the season.
“I felt like right before I got hurt, I was starting to get on a roll,” he said. “I felt comfortable in my position and what I was doing and what I was asked to do and had a pretty good knowledge of the defense. I kind of hit a speed bump there, but I think (it’s going to) springboard me into the next season.”
Barr enjoyed playing for first-year head coach Mike Zimmer, who spent the previous six seasons as a defensive coordinator in Cincinnati. As seen on Hard Knocks, Zimmer had a tendency to light into his Bengals defense, but head coaches are typically a little more measured in their message.
Zimmer, however, still gets after it when necessary.
“I think he picks his spots, primarily with the defense,” Barr said. “When we’re as a team, I think he’s a little more calm and cool. But when we get into that defense room, it’s all business. But I think guys really respond to that. From what I heard, they hadn’t really had that the previous couple seasons, and they really actually appreciated him kind of getting into people a little bit. I think guys responded well to that.”
The Vikings also responded as well as possible to the Adrian Peterson saga that dominated headlines for much of the 2014 season. Minnesota went 7-9 without its best player – and with a rookie quarterback under center.
“It was just strange just not having (Peterson) there, not having his presence in the locker room,” Barr said. “He’s a great leader in that locker room and a guy I would lean on for advice, especially during training camp. We talked a lot. And we had to make up for him on the field.”
The Vikings resorted to a running-back-by-committee, with Matt Asiata and Jerrick McKinnon each rushing for 500+ yards.
“I think we kind of rallied around each other,” Barr said. “I think once Teddy (Bridgewater) got the starting job, I thought he did a great job for us and started to pick it up toward the end of the season. (He) had a pretty good run, and I think he’s going to be a great leader for this team for years to come.”
Bridgewater completed 64.4 percent of his passes for 2,919 yards, 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 13 games. He also ran for 209 yards and a score, leading the Vikings to wins in three of their final five games. The two losses, it is worth noting, were by two points apiece – at Detroit and at Miami.
In other words, Bridgewater put the Vikings – who lost four games by three points or fewer – in position to win much more often than not.
“He’s always cool and calm and collected,” Barr said. “I don’t think he plays outside of himself. I think he knows his strengths and what he’s good at, and he kind of plays to those. He didn’t have AD to kind of help him out, so I think what he was able to do without Adrian Peterson was pretty awesome. Guys love him. He’s one of my favorite players on the team. Like I said, I think he’s going to be a great player for us.”