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Progress: Vikings LB Anthony Barr is trying harder

Anthony Barr was a step slow toward the end of last season, as his production fell off. Rob Carr/Getty Images

MANKATO, Minn. -- One of the great mysteries of the Minnesota Vikings' otherwise stingy defense in the Mike Zimmer era has been the disappearance of linebacker Anthony Barr, the No. 9 overall pick of the 2014 draft who burst on the scene as a dynamic playmaker but soon faded into the ether.

By the end of last season, Zimmer was noting publicly Barr's "tendency to coast a little bit." His sacks, batted passes and forced fumbles totals dropped, and it was fair to wonder if the Vikings were going to get the value they expected from a top-10 draft pick. (Among the players they passed on in their No. 9 spot are receiver Odell Beckham Jr., chosen at No. 12, and defensive tackle Aaron Donald, selected one spot later.)

Even Barr acknowledged the issue, saying at the start of camp that picking up his effort has been a "big emphasis" during the offseason. As it turns out, his pledge wasn't just a matter of words. According to Zimmer and others, Barr turned a corner early in the offseason and has been practicing at a noticeably better pace ever since.

It's difficult for outside observers to gauge effort at practice, where players are instructed to move at different speeds based on the type and intent of the drill. But Zimmer, who is not prone to hyperbole or even false praise, used words such as "tremendous" and "phenomenal" to describe Barr's practice habits.

"He's been tremendous," Zimmer said over the weekend. "I look for him to have a big year. I am constantly trying to figure out ways to use him more and more and more. His effort has been outstanding. He's very conscientious about making sure he runs to the football all of the time. He's working very hard on getting off the blocks, just working very hard on his coverage and his pressures. He's had a phenomenal [camp]. Really, he has had a phenomenal spring and camp so far."

It's fair to ask why a professional football player needs to be "conscientious" about running to the ball, especially one like Barr, whose draft position meant he could be in line for a monster second contract if he played to expectations. Barr is among those who must try to try his hardest, but perhaps it's better that he recognize and address it rather than continue along the same path.

For his part, Barr has taken a low-key and businesslike approach in public this summer. He stopped Saturday to answer a few questions from reporters, saying that he is "just out here trying to get better, trying to improve and trying to help my team get better." He then cut short the interview and walked to the locker room.

"I'm good," he said.

Indeed. So far, so good this summer for Anthony Barr.