Crank the Heisman hype machine.
UCLA head coach Jim Mora thinks linebacker Anthony Barr deserves a shot at football’s preeminent award, and he’s not shy about telling anyone and everyone.
“Absolutely. It should start,” Mora said Thursday. “UCLA needs to promote him, and I’m going to promote him, and he needs to go out and promote himself by going out and playing great and helping his team win.”
The only Bruin to have ever taken home the Heisman is quarterback Gary Beban, who won in 1967. More daunting is the trophy’s bias towards offense: Since Michigan’s Charles Woodson became the only primarily defensive player to win in 1997, quarterbacks and running backs have won 14 straight.
Four months ago, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o finished runner-up in Heisman voting. If Barr breaks through this fall, it’ll be the culmination of an incredible two-year journey.
Last season was the rising senior’s first at outside linebacker after being ill-used at F-back under former coach Rick Neuheisel. The result was astounding: 13.5 sacks, second in the nation; 21.5 tackles for loss, good for fourth; All-American and All-Pac-12 honors.
Even with teams now having a year’s worth of film to look at, Mora expects Barr — whom he called a “neophyte” on defense — to surprise them. Returning for his final year of college ball, the coach added, will help not only UCLA but also the defensive star’s pro evaluations.
“When he goes into the NFL Draft next year, he’s less of an unknown commodity,” Mora said. “They’re going to see a guy who can come in and play immediately but they’re also going to see a guy with a high ceiling.
“That is very appealing to NFL teams when they’re drafting high. You want a guy that can come in and be an immediate impact player who has a huge upside and that’s Anthony.”
Right now, most projections have South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney — the top-ranked recruit in 2011 — to go first off the board. Barr likely won’t slip past the top 15 next April, but can he lay claim to the No. 1 spot?
“I know the Clowney kid, he’s a darn good football player, but I’d put Anthony Barr up against any defensive player in the country,” Mora said. “There’s nobody I’d trade him for. Nobody.”
» Style points: Barr split out wide on some goal-line plays in Thursday’s practice. Quarterback Brett Hundley targeted the 6-foot-4 linebacker just once, but Barr came through with a one-handed grab against cornerback Anthony Jefferson.
Mora said that’s a set that could be deployed during the season as well: “You get a big, good-looking guy with long arms like Anthony or a guy that’s athletic like Cassius (Marsh), those size mismatches — you’re going to try and utilize them.”