EAGAN, Minn. — Wearing a purple hooded sweatshirt, shorts and a winter hat with white stripes — it is November, even if it's warmer than it has been in many years — Anthony Barr said "it feels great" to be back in Minnesota.
The veteran linebacker, who was drafted by the Vikings in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft and played the first eight seasons of his career for Minnesota, signed to the practice squad Tuesday.
The team has undergone substantial changes since Barr last suited up for the Vikings in 2021, but Barr enjoyed reconnecting with longtime teammates like Harrison Smith and Danielle Hunter and other "familiar faces from the top down all throughout the organization."
"Seeing all you guys again has been pretty cool, so yeah, it's been a reunion, I guess you could call it," he told media members during a session Wednesday.
One of the biggest changes is the four-time Pro Bowler who wore No. 55 for his entire time with the Vikings will now be wearing the No. 54, which was worn by his close friend Eric Kendricks from 2015-22. Barr made the change because rookie Andre Carter II is wearing 55.
"That will be weird. I called E.K. and asked him if it was cool, and he gave me his blessing, so 55 was gone, 54 it is," Barr explained. "I have much respect for him as a player, person and friend, so it just felt right to make sure it was all good."
About an hour later, Barr was back on the field for a walk-through session as Minnesota (6-4) prepares for visiting Denver (4-5) on NBC's Sunday Night Football.
Barr is learning the new Vikings system implemented this season by Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores. He said he's watched the team "probably every week" this season.
"It was cool watching football from the couch. I see why y'all like it so much," he quipped. "The defense plays very fast and aggressive and a style that I think fits my abilities."
Now it's learning more details about the system and how he can best help the team.
"I think it's day-by-day, every day just trying to gather as much information as I can and be a sponge," Barr said. "A lot of these guys have been doing this for quite a while now, so I know some of the guys in this system and will try to learn it as soon as I can.
"The defense and the structure of it, how they play, the style they play, I think it fits what I do best, so whatever I'm asked to do and whenever I'm asked to do it is something I'm looking forward to," Barr added.
Flores knew "the player well" from previous film study he had conducted with the linebacker in Mike Zimmer's defensive scheme (2014-21). The current Vikings have implemented a double-A gap look that Zimmer mastered among their multiple approaches this season.
Flores began getting to know Barr the person on Tuesday.
"Very productive, experienced, smart. Those are things I've heard from multiple people I trust, so I'm sure it's true. Has the ability to pick up the defense and understanding conceptually, so excited to get him, but again, it's the first day, so it's a different scheme, different terminology," Flores said. "We know the player and, obviously, [he's] very productive. We're excited to have him and work with him. We'll see how it all shakes out."
NFL rules allow teams to elevate veterans from their practice squads, so that could be an option for Barr once he and the team decide he's ready for game action.
The team is tasked with replacing leading tackler Jordan Hicks, who has been the primary "green dot" player tasked with communicating messages from the sideline to teammates. Hicks suffered a leg contusion Sunday and underwent a procedure Monday to treat compartment syndrome. He was placed on Injured Reserve Tuesday.
There have been encouraging reports posted by Hicks on social media and from the team for his long-term wellbeing, but a recovery process is also expected.
Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell said Hicks was watching tape of the Broncos "like it was any other day" when O'Connell visited him and expressed optimism for Hicks returning this season.
"I think it's more so about what took place and the potential severity that we avoided, but there's still some healing that has to happen, and we wanted to make sure we've got some time, and with the structure of the season, we wanted to make sure we get him 100-percent back," O'Connell said of placing Hicks on IR. "He'll probably need to regain some strength. He's played a lot of snaps for us, has done an unbelievable job. It's hard to even put into words the type of loss that will be for our group, from all the jobs and the communication that he does, so we'll hopefully get him back in meetings and on the field with us as soon as possible. We wanted to be smart about that."
Barr described Hicks as "one of my favorite players to watch this year."
"I think he provides so much leadership on and off the field for this team, that if I can fill just a percentage of what he's meant to the organization since he's been here, that's all I'm trying to do," Barr said.
O'Connell said the team keeps a list of free agents who "can come in and potentially have an impact for you."
"His history, and the feelings toward the player and person from his time here as a great, great player made it pretty easy," O'Connell said. "I think in addition to that, him talking to even E.K. or Harrison Smith or Kirk [Cousins] or any of the guys he played with, I think he was excited to come back and be a part of it, and we were really fired up to get him."
Flores noted Barr's ability to play inside and outside linebacker spots, as well as his effectiveness around the line of scrimmage. Barr also has plenty of experience with the green dot helmet.
"I think you can kind of envision him playing some spots or some things that we do. He can do some of the things that D.J. Wonnum does, some of the things that Hicks does, some of the things that [Josh] Metellus does, so all of those things," Flores said. "It took those guys a little bit of time to learn as well, so we'll see how this goes. He's up there meeting with [linebackers coach Mike] Siravo now to get the basic information in and try to see how this looks, and obviously we've got to practice and see how that looks, as well."