NFC North: Jordan Zumwalt
June, 5, 2014
By Ben Goessling | ESPN.com
Jonathan Moore/Getty ImagesRookie linebacker Anthony Barr won't be able to work with the Vikings on a full-time basis until he graduates from UCLA later this month.MINNEAPOLIS -- Anthony Barr packs up the iPad the Minnesota Vikings gave him during their rookie camp, stakes out a spot in a UCLA campus library or in one of the football coaches' offices. He downloads the film from that day's practice, watching a team he doesn't yet feel part of and projecting where he'll fit. Several times a week, he'll plug his headphones and a microphone into his iPhone, so he can keep his hands free to run the iPad while Vikings linebackers coach Adam Zimmer talks through the film over the phone, telling Barr to imagine he is occupying the Vikings' strongside linebacker spot, rather than the player on the screen who will ostensibly be competing with Barr for playing time in training camp.
The ninth overall pick in the NFL draft can have only limited contact with his coaches and can devote only so much time to football while trying to manage the 20-credit load he's taking to finish a degree in sociology this spring. Barr had to miss several midterms in those classes in April while he was working out for teams before the draft, and he's hoping he'll be able to pass the courses without doing too much damage to his 3.0 GPA. Much of his attention, though, is on his employer 1,900 miles away.
"It kind of sucks," Barr said. "I want to be out there, but I'm not allowed to. I wish it was my decision."
This is how Barr is spending his final weeks of college, straddling the line between a degree he's trying to finish and a job he's technically not able to start, at least not completely. UCLA is on the quarters system, like three other schools in the Pac-12, and Barr won't be done with his classes until June 13. Thanks to a 1990 rule the NFL established with the help of the American Football Coaches Association, draft picks from schools on the quarters system are allowed to attend only one minicamp before their classes are done. Beyond that, they are prohibited from being on the field with their coaches, and three of the Vikings' top five picks -- Barr, Oregon State defensive end Scott Crichton and Stanford guard David Yankey -- are trying to catch up from two time zones west of Minnesota.
The Vikings are doing their best to keep the players on track -- Zimmer will make his second visit to Los Angeles on Friday, and offensive line coach Jeff Davidson will return to Stanford to work on installing the Vikings' scheme with Yankey -- but the system forces teams and rookies to be resourceful under some unique constraints. Barr's friend and former teammate, linebacker Jordan Zumwalt, is going through a similar process after the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted him in the sixth round.
"We're pretty thorough with it," Barr said. "It's been nice to have [Zimmer], so I don't feel like I'm kind of in the unknown and trying to step in when I get back. It's like I'm just one of the guys."
Barr took the winter quarter off from school while he prepared for the NFL scouting combine, but figured he would stay in school and finish his degree, rather than returning to get it later. That choice put him under the NFL's rule, which attempts to keep players focused on their studies while they're still technically in college. The rule was adopted long before the lengthy offseason programs teams now use, and Barr said it has left him wishing he had more control over how he's able to manage his time, rather than the league mandating he can only spend so much time on the phone and in meetings with Zimmer. He feels as though he's mostly up to speed on what the Vikings are doing, and probably will find a little leeway in the fact that the team's veterans are learning a new defense, too, but head coach Mike Zimmer has talked about how the Vikings have big plans for how they'll use Barr, and those plans will have to wait until minicamp and training camp to be installed on the field.
Barr plans to walk in a commencement ceremony at Pauley Pavilion on June 13, and he'll be on a plane for the Twin Cities the next day, getting to town a couple of days before the Vikings begin minicamp June 17. He hasn't had a chance to look for a house yet, and doesn't know where he'll be staying during the Vikings' three-day minicamp. "Hopefully they'll put me up somewhere the week I'm there," he said.
Those concerns, though, will be secondary to the Vikings' top pick finally getting to step on the field and start a career he's been preparing for through unusual circumstances.
"I'm looking forward to showing them who I am, how much I love the game and just making a good impression on them," he said.