When Anthony Barr first met his new head coach at UCLA, Jim Mora, Barr had an unusual request.
Barr, a standout running back at Los Angeles Loyola High, had seen little action in his first two years under former coach Rick Neuheisel.
So the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Barr asked Mora if he could play on the other side of the ball, as an outside linebacker, in his junior year. Mora agreed.
“I just wanted to introduce myself to him and let him know what was on my mind,” Barr said Saturday after the Bruins held their third spring practice — and their first with pads — on campus. “He thought the switch would be good for me as well.”
Barr isn’t the only Bruin expected to shift positions this season as Mora, formerly head coach of the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons, looks for ways to bolster a team that was 6-8 last year.
“Part of the objective of spring is to find out who plays best in what position,” Mora said.
Barr had run for 1,890 yards and scored 20 touchdowns as a junior at Loyola and was highly sought by college coaches even though he suffered a broken ankle in the second game of his senior year.
Although his father and two uncles had played football at Notre Dame, Barr chose UCLA and was a running back and “F-back,” a running back-tight end-wide receiver hybrid.
But Barr didn’t significantly figure in Neuheisel’s plans, and totaled only 12 receptions and 56 yards rushing in his first two seasons. He also missed three games last year for surgery to repair cartilage on his right knee.
“The past couple of years hadn’t gone the way I had hoped,” Barr said. “I wasn’t really involved. I just felt that I wanted a fresh start.”
He found a receptive audience. “We talked about it and we thought that with his size and athletic ability, he could help us on defense,” said UCLA defensive coordinator Lou Spanos, who was an NFL assistant coach for 17 years.
Barr said he occasionally played defense in his freshman and senior years at Loyola. “I have some experience,” he said.
But can he make the mental switch from being a running back/receiver to being a fearsome linebacker?
“I’m a nice guy by nature, but once you put the pads on . . . you realize it’s business,” Barr said.
And he’ll have to be tough to secure the job because, as Spanos put it, “We said to all the players that everybody is competing for a spot.”