When and if Anthony Barr gets on the field Sunday against the Detroit Lions, the Vikings will be adding a four-time Pro Bowl linebacker to a defense that took a step forward in last weekend’s 14-7 loss to Cleveland.
But while coaches will be happy to have Barr back for the noon kickoff at U.S. Bank Stadium, they made a point Wednesday of not setting the bar too high.
“You know, he hasn’t played in over a year now,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “We’ve just got to get him back in the groove of being physical and making checks and understanding where he’s at, and we’ll kind of go from there.”
- After such an impressive start this season, Vikings’ offense suddenly under fire
- Former Vikings star on Dalvin Cook’s ankle injury: ‘I probably would have held him out one more game’
- After shaky showing against Browns, Vikings’ offensive line seeks to ‘put a better product out there’
Barr was a full participant in Wednesday’s practice at TCO Performance Center in Eagan, and that’s a good sign for the linebacker who has been battling an injury to his right knee since training camp and missed the final 14 games in 2020 because of a torn pectoral muscle.
“There will be a lot of emotions,” Barr said Wednesday, “but at the end of the day, (I’ve) just got to do my job and help the team win.”
Barr was listed as questionable for last Sunday’s home loss to the Browns but said Wednesday he knew he wasn’t going to play before kickoff. The Vikings also thought he might play against the Seattle Seahawks on Sept. 26, but he was withheld from their 30-17 win.
Barr hasn’t played since tearing a pectoral muscle Sept. 20, 2020, at Indianapolis.
Asked if practice can prepare him for his first game in more than a year, Barr said, “I think that’s the whole point of practice, right — prepare yourself for the game? I don’t know any other way.”
But he also acknowledged that it’s not like riding a bike.
“I’m not going to say it’s that easy,” he said. “There are a little bit more intricacies to it than that, but I’m confident. I’ve done it for a decent amount of time. I know what to do and how to prepare and what I’ve got to do to get ready.”
Barr, 29, re-negotiated his contract last spring, reducing his salary from $12.9 million to $10 million this season and voiding the last two years — making him a potential free agent next spring. In his last full season, he finished with a career-high 79 tackles with six for losses, an interception and a forced fumble and recovery.
The Vikings made the playoffs that year and upset New Orleans at the SuperDome before losing at San Francisco. The team is hoping Barr can help the team climb out of a 1-3 hole and make the postseason this season for the first time since then.
“His leadership is going to help us. He’s a calming influence in the huddle,” co-defensive coordinator Andre Patterson said. “The offense has to account for him, so that’s going to help us, too. And then we just have to make sure we keep our eyes on him and don’t overplay him.
“We understand this is his first time playing. You get a new toy out there, a good player, you want to ride it until its wheels fall off, but we can’t do that. We have to be sure we’re smart with him, too.”
His presence might also help fill a hole. Nick Vigil, who has replaced Barr as an every-down linebacker early, wasn’t dressed for the start of Wednesday’s practice. If for some reason Vigil can’t play against Detroit, Blake Lynch likely would continue playing in three-linebacker sets.
The full nature of Barr’s injury remains vague. Asked Wednesday if it was a tendonitis or arthritis issue, he said, “I’m not sure that really matters. I’m feeling good. I don’t think I’ll have any setbacks going forward.”
Still, after previous starts and stops, Zimmer was hesitant to declare Barr a lock to play against the Lions.
“You know, we’ll have to see how he is today and moving forward,” the coach said. “But I feel good about him.”