While it appeared briefly that Anthony Barr would become a casualty of free agency, the 27-year-old linebacker instead re-signed with the Vikings to remain in Purple.
During his press conference with Twin Cities media members on March 15, Barr was asked about his expected role after being used more as a pass rusher toward the end of the 2018 season. He responded that "the coaches have always done a great job playing to my strengths" and that he continues to have confidence in that.
"Whatever I'm asked to do, I'll try to do to the best of my ability," Barr told reporters.
While it remains to be seen what percentage of Barr's duties will be pass rushing during the upcoming season, analytics site Pro Football Focus showed that he excelled at it last year. PFF's Austin Gayle took a look back and ranked the top five pass-rushing linebackers from 2018. He wrote:
Run-stuffing linebackers are no longer a valuable commodity. Off-ball linebackers need to positively contribute in the passing game in order to truly shine in today's NFL, whether that's in coverage, rushing the passer or a combination of both.
Gayle listed Barr at No. 5.
A former UCLA edge defender, Barr recorded one or more pressures in 10 of the 13 games he played in with the Vikes a year ago, including a six-pressure outing against the Miami Dolphins in Week 15. His 79.7 pass-rush grade ranked fifth at the position.
Barr recorded 2.0 of 3.0 total sacks last season against the Dolphins.
Ahead of Barr on Gayle's list were Tennessee's Jayon Brown (86.6), Dallas' Jaylon Smith (84.8), New Orleans' Demario Davis (81.0) and Pittsburgh's Vince Williams (80.3).
Vikings roster features 6 former wrestlers, 3 on offensive line
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer appreciates the skill set that often accompanies players who previously wrestled.
Tim Yotter of Viking Update recently highlighted three former wrestlers on the Vikings offensive line and referenced Zimmer's comments about connections between the two sports. Yotter wrote:
Tackle Riley Reiff earned three state titles with a 121-1 record at Parkston (South Dakota) High School and was recruited by South Dakota State in wrestling and football. Center Pat Elflein was named Wrestler of the Year as a senior in the Ohio Capital Conference and qualified for state and national championships. He earned 12 letters between football, track and wrestling at Pickerington (Ohio) North High School. And Josh Kline, the guard that the Vikings signed in free agency, was the Ohio Division I champion in the 285-pound weight class with a record of 45-1 with 32 pins.
Zimmer spoke with media members earlier this week at the NFL's Annual League Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, and acknowledged that shuffling players on the offensive line is a possibility. When asked about the potential of sliding Reiff to guard, despite the fact that he hasn't played on the interior since college, Zimmer said the lineman's wrestling background could be an advantage. He later mentioned the "athleticism, good body control and balance" he looks for at the offensive line position.
"And then obviously they've got to be tough and physical and those things," Zimmer said. "But we're looking for guys with a certain skill set to be able to do what we want them to do."
Yotter pointed out that wrestling backgrounds are not exclusive to offensive linemen.
It's not totally unique to the offensive line. Cornerback Mackensie Alexander was rated in the top 15 wrestlers in his weight class as a high schooler in Florida, defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson earned two letters from wrestling in New York, defensive end Hercules Mata'afa was a state finalist wrestling in Hawaii as a junior and senior.
_But the skills learned [through] wrestling can help when quick adjustments are needed on the offensive line to impede a defender with bad intentions. _