CULVER CITY – If Anthony Barr’s growing hype can be distilled into a single sequence, it would be one on Nov. 17, 2012. That day, the UCLA linebacker blew through USC’s line untouched, crushing quarterback Matt Barkley on second-and-seventh.
Less than three minutes later, UCLA beat USC 38-28, winning the rivalry for the first time since 2006. Shoulder separated, Barkley never played another collegiate down.
Asked about the moment at Friday’s Pac-12 Media Day, Barr laughed.
“I want to know why the tackle just let me go, for whatever reason,” Barr said. “He should be standing up here and talking to you guys, because he’s the reason why I was able to make that play.”
Expect more of those moments from Barr this season – either assisted or not. Already an All-American, his decision to pass up the NFL draft is a major reason that UCLA, coming off a runner-up finish in the Pac-12 Championship, was picked as the South Division favorite. Despite an amped-up schedule that includes back-to-back trips to Stanford and Oregon, the Bruins received three votes to win its first conference title since 1998.
The running back-turned-linebacker likely would have been a top-20 pick with just one season on defense, but elected to stay to improve his pass coverage abilities. If he progresses as expected, he could be a Heisman contender. Head coach Jim Mora said this spring that the school should prepare a promotional campaign for the defensive star.
Usually soft-spoken, Barr insists he’s ready for the limelight.
“This is the most attention I’ve got, ever, in my life right now,” Barr said. “I have no problem being up here, so, yeah.”
He looked the part Friday afternoon, handling questions with ease and arguably dishing out the best quote of the session.
His numbers excite as well. Barr reportedly ran a 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds this spring. Even after rounding up for some error, it’s an astounding time for a player who now stands at 6-foot-4, 255 pounds. Hardly a slim player a year ago at 240, the senior showed up Sony Pictures Studios with bowling balls for shoulders.
“The thing about him, he’s gotten bigger but he’s gotten faster too,” Mora said. “It’s scary.”
It’s stars such as Barr and quarterback Brett Hundley that make UCLA such a tantalizing team to watch — even as questions abound across the roster. For starters, the Bruins must figure out life after all-time leading rusher Johnathan Franklin, for starters. They may use numerous freshmen in the offensive line rotation. They must tinker with a secondary that returns zero starters.
“I have no clue who’s going to play where in the secondary,” Mora said. ““No clue. But that’s OK. Somebody’s going to present themselves.”
He hopes, like Barr did.
WAITING ON EDDIE
Five-star recruit Eddie Vanderdoes’ may still have a chance to play for UCLA this fall. Because he broke his national letter of intent with Notre Dame, the Placer High product must sit out a season and lose a year of eligibility unless either he is released or receives a waiver.
The Irish have denied him the former, but he will appeal the NLI committee in person on Monday. The defensive lineman cited an illness in his family and switched to UCLA to stay closer to his Northern California home.
“Hopefully, we will have more information after that, but right now it’s up in the air,” Mora said.
Given how Barr’s position switch paid off, Mora isn’t hesitating to tinker elsewhere on the field. Tight end Ian Taubler, arguably the team’s best blocker at the position, will switch to defensive end for the upcoming season. He will still be featured in some goal-line packages on offense, but the 6-foot-4, 257-pound sophomore was once an all-state defensive end at Fresno’s Bullard High.
“Ian, he’s a big physical, good looking athlete,” Mora said. “In our style of offense, he wasn’t getting the playing time I think a guy with his skillset deserves or demands.”
Senior Stan McKay, used as a mini-linebacker, will move back to safety to help balance the medical retirement of junior Dietrich Riley (neck). Freshman linebacker Jayon Brown, a Long Beach Poly alum, could potentially move to safety too.