Anthony Barr, who spent last season and the early part of the spring as an F-back, worked primarily with the running backs Monday during spring practice and said he will work with that group for the remainder of spring.
Barr was an all-state running back at Loyola High in Los Angeles, but came to UCLA as an "athlete." At 6-5, 238, he doesn't fit the prototypical mold of a running back, so coach Rick Neuheisel slotted him with the F-backs--a versatile crossover position that combines elements of running back, receiver and tight end.
This spring, however, Neuheisel and offensive coordinator Mike Johnson want to see if Barr can cut it as a Division I running back.
"He’s a very accomplished running back in high school and we want to see what we have before we decide what we want to do," Neuheisel said. "We just want to make sure we’re getting everything we can out of him and that he’s fulfilling his fullest potential."
Barr rushed for 1,890 yards and 20 touchdowns as a junior at Loyola, but sat out most of his senior year with an ankle injury. He said he's looking forward to being able to show what he can do as a ball carrier.
"I’m a little rusty," he said. "It’s been a while, but coming out of high school I was a running back. That was my position so that’s what I like to do so it feels good to be back there."
Barr played in all 12 games last season as a true freshman and started four games, but didn't handle the ball all that much as an F-back. He had nine catches for 66 yards and rushed six times for 31 yards.
"Last year I felt like I was primarily a blocker so I’m excited to expand that," he said.
Barr said he's used to people not believing in him as a running back because of his size, but that gives him a bit of an extra edge in trying to prove the doubters wrong.
"Definitely people look at me and everything else but running back comes to mind," he said. "But whatever."
Barr got involved with a few carries and also caught a couple of passes out of the backfield in his first day as a full-time running back and Neuheisel liked what he saw.
"The few runs that he had today, he was very impressive so we’ll keep track of that," Neuheisel said.
A few other tidbits:
Practice was a little sluggish with many players slow to recover from Saturday's scrimmage, but Neuheisel said the team must learn to keep the intensity no matter what. "If we want to go where we all say we want to go, we have to get through that," Neuheisel said. "we can’t just do like every other team and say ‘well, we scrimmaged on Saturday and we weren’t feeling quite like it.’"
Neuheisel said he's formed a leadership council of players that will help this year's team form an identity and solidify the team chemistry. He said he wanted players from all classes and positions to be represented. The 12 players on the council are: Jeff Baca, Isaiah Bowens, Tony Dye, Taylor Embree, Johnathan Franklin, Datone Jones, Eric Kendricks, Patrick Larimore, Kai Maiava, Owamagbe Odighizuwa, Kevin Prince, Jerry Rice."It’s a bunch of kids that come from different places in their lives, but all want the same thing which is to be part of a great championship caliber team," Neuheisel said.
Safety Tony Dye injured his knee during Saturday's scrimmage and sat out practice Monday. He was scheduled to have some tests done on it Monday night but said he didn't think it was anything serious. "I'm pretty sure I'd play this Saturday if we had a game," he said.
Tight end John Young, who missed last season after shoulder surgery, aggravated the injury Monday and left practice with his arm in a sling. "We'll see what the extent of the damage is," Neuheisel said. "Hopefully it's nothing more than we tape him down and he'll be back out here."
The depth on the defensive line is making for some heated competition at just about every spot. Datone Jones, Cassius Marsh, Justin Edison, Damien Holmes, Nate Chandler and Owamagbe Odighizuwa all have starting experience and Keenan Graham, a six-game starter last season, is out recovering from surgery. Donovan Carter, Seali'i Epenesa and Iuta Tepa also got significant experience last season while Derrick Bryant and Wesley Flowers are coming off redshirt seasons and are also pushing for spots. "It feels like an NFL camp, like you are trying to make the team," Jones said. "I feel like now coming out here, just by stepping the wrong way into another gap, you can lose your spot. That’s how it is now."
Neuheisel offered condolences to the family of former UCLA offensive coordinator Homer Smith, who passed away Sunday at 79 after a battle with cancer. Smith was the offensive coordinator when Neuheisel played quarterback at UCLA. "We lost a great, great Bruin, a great, great man yesterday," Neuheisel said. "There are two men in my life that have made a real difference when it comes to football, Terry Donahue and Homer Smith and I just miss Homer already. He was an inspiration to me as a coach and as a guy who mentored me in the coaching profession. I am forever indebted to him and just want the family to know we’re going to miss Homer."