- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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The story on Anthony Barr is changing. At first, it was a nice little story about a UCLA fullback who was willing to switch to linebacker because it would help the team. Then the story was "huh, this guy is kind of good." Now the story is Anthony Barr, legitimate contender for Pac-12 defensive player of the year.
It happens that fast. But don't bring up the fact that he used to be on offense. As far as he's concerned, it was a lifetime ago.
"Yeah, I'm a little sick of that, honestly," said Barr with half of a laugh. "It's been 10 games now. I'm fully converted. I'm a defensive player, without question."
And a really, really good one. Heading into this weekend's game against cross-town rival USC, Barr leads the Pac-12 in total number of sacks with 11 and is tied for the conference lead in tackles for a loss with ASU's Will Sutton at 17.
"It's been something," UCLA head coach Jim Mora said of Barr's transition. "He's one of the premier defensive players in this conference and I would venture to say he's one of the premier defensive players in the country. Or at least he has the ability to be with a little more work and another year at the position."
Barr was hurt during spring ball, so he didn't get much time to work at the position. He actually called it "a blessing in disguise" because he used that time to grind in the playbook and learn all of the defensive schemes. When he started working in fall camp, he was behind the curve technique wise, but he at least had a sense of what he was doing.
"During that time I was able to nail down the mental aspects, nail down the schemes," Barr said. "The summer in San Bernardino was all about grinding. I think that was the best thing that happened to me. I was put in a tough environment with a lot of adversity. I think that's really where I grew up as a player."
And he hasn't slowed down. He's recorded at least a sack in eight of 10 games this year and has multiple tackles for a loss in half of UCLA's games this year.
"Really, a lot of it was all new for him when we got to training camp," Mora said. "You can't learn a position in three weeks. A lot was natural ability and he's got a tremendous amount of that."
In his first three games of the season -- Rice, Nebraska and Houston -- he registered a sack in each game. But really had a breakout game in a losing effort to Oregon State, where he had three tackles for a loss and pair of sacks while also forcing a fumble. And week after week, he's picking up a little more.
"Now that he's starting to learn the particulars of the position; hand placement, where his eyes should be, how people are trying to attack him and how he can attack blockers, all the little details that can make him truly special, he's becoming a different player," Mora said. "And those things are going to improve as he learns more about the position."
Barr is one of several UCLA players who had to make position shifts or adjustments to accommodate the new coaching staff and the new schemes. He said it's not a coincidence that Saturday they are playing for the Pac-12 South Division championship and a spot in the conference title game.
"All of these guys put their egos aside for the betterment of the team,"Barr said. "If we want to be the kind of team we want to be, there's no room for personal goals or personal aspirations. That's how we come together as a unit and as a defense because we need all 11 guys working together. It's been great to see."
8hCraig Haubert and Tom Luginbill
8hCraig Haubert and Tom Luginbill