GREEN BAY—He was the last of the 11 players the Packers drafted a year ago, and he was lost for the season to a hamstring injury that occurred in the same game a more noteworthy teammate broke his collarbone.
With all the talk swirling that the Packers might target an inside linebacker high in this week’s draft, this linebacker is rarely mentioned in the discussion at the position because he didn’t play a snap on defense as a rookie. He was just starting to show up on the stat sheet on special teams when he landed on injured reserve.
Got any guesses? He’s Sam Barrington, practically a forgotten member of the 2013 Packers, but he could be more important to the 2014 Packers than many realize.
“I haven’t proven anything, yet, and if you’re the forgotten guy, it’s OK,” Barrington said recently after one of his offseason workouts at Lambeau Field. “When and if you do make that comeback, people won’t forget about you the second time.”
Barrington wasn’t about to make any bold predictions about his second NFL season, but he’s clearly intent on being a factor, somewhere, somehow.
It might be on special teams, where three of Green Bay’s four return/coverage units struggled a year ago. Barrington was just beginning to make an impact, recording two coverage tackles at Minnesota in Week 8, when the hamstring injury vs. Chicago in Week 9 ended his season.
Barrington called it a “fatigue” injury, the result of 18 months of non-stop football training that began in the summer prior to his senior season at South Florida. He knows to be smarter about his body now, but seeing his steady progress abruptly halted was a tough lesson to learn.
“Anytime you get an injury, it’s going to be bad timing, but I can definitely say I was up and coming,” he said. “Internally, I felt like I was learning pretty well and I was starting to apply what I learned to the field.”
That included his learning on defense, where he transitioned from playing any of the three linebacker spots in South Florida’s 4-3 to an inside position in Dom Capers’ 3-4.
Figuring out the run fits in the new scheme was the biggest adjustment, but he credits position coach Winston Moss for not just spoon-feeding him the defensive calls. Being forced to process mentally on his own has better prepared Barrington to compete for playing time in year two.
“Coach Moss didn’t just give me the answers,” Barrington said. “He helped me figure it out myself.”
The learning continues in the current offseason program, and the competition will begin in earnest in training camp. Whether or not Barrington can rise up and challenge incumbent inside linebackers A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones and Jamari Lattimore, plus a potential high draft pick, is worth monitoring.
Truth be told, Barrington’s rookie cameo wasn’t enough for anyone to know where he fits best in 2014, including Barrington himself. He simply talked about working hard every day and learning as much as he can. From there, he’ll take his chances.
“When you have a guy doing those two things, the sky’s the limit,” he said. “If I’m a special teams player, then I’m going to give 100 percent. If it’s time for me to crack the depth chart, that’s what I’ll do. I’ll make the most of my opportunity.”
He’s convinced one will come, even after last season turned out to be a tease. He’d been there before, getting a call on the third day of last year’s draft from a team that said it was planning to take him in the fifth round, only to change its mind.
Then the sixth round and first half of the seventh round went by, and the only calls he was getting were from teams expressing their interest in signing him as a rookie free agent.
He thought the call he got from Green Bay as the 232nd pick approached was another one of those free-agent calls, until he breathed a “sigh of relief,” realizing GM Ted Thompson was making him the 11th and final member of the Packers’ 2013 draft class.
So forgive the “forgotten guy” if his approach remains, well, you just never know.
“The NFL is definitely an opportunistic league,” Barrington said. “When you get the opportunity, you have to take advantage of it. It will come.”