Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.
Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.
Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.
The NFL’s ninth overall draft pick is locked in as a starter and is progressing nicely toward his massive potential.
And yet not a single “An-thon-EE, An-thon-EE!” chant could be heard for Vikings outside linebacker Anthony Barr during Saturday night’s 30-28 preseason victory over the Cardinals at TCF Bank Stadium.
Lost in the wake of rookie quarterback Teddy “Ted-DEE, Ted-DEE!” Bridgewater rallying the Vikings from behind not once, but twice in the fourth quarter was another sack and a forced fumble by Barr, the oversized (6-5, 255) 4-3 outside backer who is starting to flash the speed and athleticism that had the Vikings so giddy on draft day.
Barr leads the team in sacks (1 ½) and has its only forced fumble through two preseason games. His multiple skills also have allowed the Vikings to tinker with a variety of pass rushing packages. And this is the preseason, when teams don’t show everything that’s coming when the games start counting.
“He can give us that versatility on defense to where we can all kind of move around and have different parts of the defense and allow us to keep offenses offbeat,” left defensive end Brian Robison said. “[Offenses] can’t key in on one guy. If they have one guy they need to take care of, they can’t because they don’t know where he’s going to be.
“So whether it’s myself, [right end] Everson [Griffen] or Barr, you are not going to know where those rushers are coming from. You might be on the right side one time, you might be on the left side one time, you might be inside one time. You might be blitzing from the back end one time. You just never know where you’re going to be.”
On Saturday, the Cardinals had a third-and-two from their 13-yard line. Barr dropped into a three-point stance at Griffen’s right end spot. Griffen moved to Robison’s left end spot. And Robison moved inside to tackle, a spot where he first stood out as a pass rusher when Ray Edwards was the starter on the left side.
Robison and Barr got a good rush. So did Griffen, who ended up chasing down quarterback Drew Stanton, who essentially threw the ball away near the goal line.
“As a defensive end, you want to rush from the end,” Robison said. “But, bottom line, it creates mismatches. And if you can create mismatches, it gives your team more chances to win. Bottom line is I’m about winning games around here.”
Robison, 31 and in his eighth season, was asked to evaluate Barr, 22 and only three years removed from being a fullback at UCLA, as a down lineman rushing the passer.
“I think he’s got a little bit of a learning curve there,” Robison said. “He’s not used to having his hand in the dirt, but his willingness to learn is refreshing to see.
“He’s always coming up to me or Everson or [defensive line] coach Patterson or [assistant defensive line coach Robb] Akey. He’s always trying to learn. That’s what you see. He’s got such raw talent with just his speed and stuff. If he starts learning some of the hand techniques and stuff like that, he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with.”
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