GREEN BAY – Sam Barrington loves all the obvious things about playing inside linebacker, like running, hitting and tackling.
He also loves the more subtle things, such as calling the defensive signals in the huddle, reacting to a tight end or running back going in motion and barking out new signals for his teammates, or even tapping his defensive linemen on their hindquarters to get them to shift when it’s too loud for them to hear.
For most of the first six seasons of Dom Capers’ tenure as Packers’ defensive coordinator, A.J. Hawk handled those responsibilities. Barrington took them over late last season, entered 2015 the favorite to be the permanent starter and has done nothing in training camp to lose his grip on the job.
In fact, it’s those subtler things Barrington enjoys just as much if not more so about his position, because they reflect leadership and authority on the field. He wants to be in charge, and he’s relishing the opportunity in front of him.
“That’s the role I’ve taken on for the longest, ever since I was a freshman in college,” said Barrington, a seventh-round draft pick out of South Florida in 2013. “I was looking forward to that role. That’s what linebackers do. You have to be that verbal guy, along with your safety.”
He’s also suddenly the “old” guy at his position group, despite entering just his third NFL season. Clay Matthews is in his first full year at inside linebacker, while a stable of young prospects – converted outside linebackers Nate Palmer and Carl Bradford, fourth-round draft pick Jake Ryan, former undrafted free agent Joe Thomas and undrafted rookie Tavarus Dantzler – look up to Barrington as they battle for playing time and roster spots.
It’s a dynamic that developed in a hurry and has taken some getting used to, with Hawk, Brad Jones and Jamari Lattimore no longer around. Barrington has changed right along with it.
“I’m adapting,” he said. “Instead of being the guy where I can go and ask a lot of older guys at my position for advice, I’m being the guy who doesn’t necessarily need the coach to tell him what I did wrong. I go to him and tell him, ‘On this play, …’”
Barrington by no means thinks he knows it all, though. He often references how Hall of Famer-to-be Ray Lewis talked about still learning things in his 16th and 17th seasons, and he’d love to be around that long and say the same.
First things first, though, and that’s establishing himself for a full year as the nerve center of the Packers’ defensive front. The communication still needs to be smoothed out, but that’s what training camp and the preseason are for.
“I’m thankful to have guys like B.J. (Raji) and Mike Daniels, older guys, so when I’m in there with the defensive line I can make changes and they’re on the fly with it,” he said. “Instead of turning around like, ‘What’s going on?’”
Other than letting one run by Jonas Gray get away, the Packers’ defense provided plenty to like in the preseason opener in New England. Seven sacks of QB Jimmy Garoppolo highlighted the solid overall showing.
“We emphasize being a pressure defense when it’s our time to do that, and to see the guys take it from practice into the game was pretty cool,” Barrington said.
Spoken like the old, grizzled veteran he is amongst his position mates now, even if he really isn’t.
“I ain’t been in the league that long,” he said, “but it’s cool.”