IRVING, Texas – Former UCLA standout pass rusher Anthony Barr was two years old when the L.A. Raiders moved back to Oakland and the L.A. Rams moved to St. Louis.
Barr, whose father and other family members played football at Notre Dame, was born in South Bend, Ind., but grew up and attended high school in Los Angeles, without a professional team to pull for in the area.
He watched a lot of the Denver Broncos as a kid in the ‘90s, growing up a fan of John Elway and Terrell Davis. But he didn’t have one “go-to team,” as he put it, and another squad was also on the dial.
“It was always CBS and Fox were the two channels we got out on the West Coast,” Barr recalled. “So Dallas was always on Fox, and I watched them pretty frequently.”
After years of watching the Dallas Cowboys, Barr, a highly sought-after high school running back turned college running back turned standout linebacker and likely first-round pick in the upcoming 2014 NFL Draft, could wind up being the second former running back on the Cowboys’ defensive line if he joins Henry Melton in Dallas.
Barring a trade, which is always a possibility with the Cowboys, Barr would have to fall out of the top 10 for that to happen. But he wouldn’t be offended or disappointed if that occurs and he ends up a Cowboy.
“There’s pros and cons to every team and everywhere you go, but if I were a Cowboy, that would be really a blessing, truly a dream come true – a team I watched growing up,” Barr said. “It would just be surreal. I would be really appreciative to be here.”
Barr, who spent his first two years at running back at UCLA before transitioning to 3-4 outside linebacker and racking up 23.5 sacks in just two seasons at the new position, is among the Dallas Cowboys 30 pre-draft visitors.
The Cowboys will have a decision to make if they take Barr, who’s not used to playing in a 4-3 system with his hand on the ground. Barr led the Bruins with 13.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss in his first year at outside linebacker in 2012 and did so once again last year with 10 sacks and 20 tackles for loss in 2013.
He’s demonstrated tremendous burst and quickness around the edge, but the Cowboys’ defensive scheme would be new for him. The defensive coaches could make him an outside linebacker, or they could groom him into a defensive end.
Barr said he thinks he can play and produce at either position, as long as he gets an opportunity. He said he’s not sure what he’d be better suited for, considering he’s never played in that 4-3 system, and that as long as he’s on the field, he doesn’t mind the position.
But based on Barr’s visit with defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, it seems likely he’ll be joining the position group that the former defensive line coach taught last year.
“I spoke with him at length today,” Barr said. “He showed me a lot of tape of (Julius) Peppers and Simeon Rice and (Warren) Sapp, so I think he wants me playing that defensive right end position to go after the quarterback, and that’s something I’m all for.”
Marinelli always refers to his defensive linemen as “rush men,” with the main goal to get up the field as fast as possible. After years of having to read, react and diagnose at linebacker, he’d get the chance to use his skillset as an explosive pass rusher in a new way in Dallas. That’s a situation that excites Barr, who said there’s nothing better than sacking and knocking down the quarterback.
“That’s something I take pride in the last couple years, it’s something I enjoy doing,” Barr said. “So If I’m asked to do that, I’ll be very happy to do it.”
While Barr’s best trait on the field might be his quickness around the edge, he believes his best trait he’ll bring to a team is in the locker room. The former running back brings with him a load of confidence after finally breaking out following the position switch.
“I make those around me better, I believe,” Barr said. “I think being average is something I’ve been before, and I don’t really want to go back to doing that. I think I can excel my game and those around me, and I’m a competitor. I’m a hate-losing, love-to-win kind of guy. Those two things kind of jump out to me.”
It can be an exhaustive process for a potential first-round pick to go through all the scenarios in his head of potential landing spots. Barr said it’s hard not think about where he’ll end up, but he tries not to since he’s already put in most of the work. For now, he’ll sit back and enjoy the pre-draft process and trips, including the one to see the Cowboys this week.
Barr’s trip to Dallas was a first, having visited San Antonio, Houston and El Paso, but never the home of the Cowboys.
He’s used to visiting with plenty of teams given his first-round talent, but speaking with coaches and the familiar faces around the NFL doesn’t get old to Barr, particularly in Dallas.
“If you coach in the NFL, obviously you’re going to get some respect right off the bat,” Barr said. “But these guys that I’ve watched growing up and coaching, it’s just real humbling to speak with these guys. I met Jerry Jones last night, and I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t even talk at first, like, ‘This is Jerry Jones.’ It was a pretty cool experience, so these guys get my respect right off the bat.”
If he falls to No. 16, that cool experience in Dallas may just the first of many for Barr, who could wind up on the same line as Melton and on the same defense as J.J. Wilcox. That would make three former running backs and possible defensive starters in Dallas defying the notion that offensive players don’t like to hit.
“I don’t know whoever said that,” Barr said with a slight grin. “We’re doing all right for ourselves.”
How ‘bout a quick look?