GREEN BAY – Much has been made of linebacker Sam Barrington’s play down the stretch in 2014.
The one making the least of it is probably Barrington himself.
In the last of many interviews at his locker through OTAs and minicamp, Barrington seemed to downplay his strong finish last season, when he stepped into the starting lineup, recorded double-digit tackles in three of the last four regular-season games and gave the Packers defense a noticeable upgrade at an inside linebacker spot that had constantly been in flux.
As the offseason program wrapped up, Barrington referred to his late-season emergence as a “semi-performance.” It’s not that he didn’t appreciate the opportunity. It’s more that he’s selling what he did as a preview, not an achievement.
“Everybody wants to seem to crown me for no reason,” Barrington said.
He is the clear front-runner, though, for a starting job in 2015. Whether he ultimately plays more snaps alongside veteran Clay Matthews or rookie fourth-round draft pick Jake Ryan remains to be seen, but Barrington has taken “dead serious,” to use his words, everything that comes with the position.
A hard hitter whose arrival was announced with a couple of early short-yardage stops against New England in Week 13, he doesn’t want a specialty role in Dom Capers’ defense. He wants the multi-tasking, signal-calling leadership duties, even though he only has seven NFL starts under his belt in two seasons.
“I kind of hope for it,” said Barrington, who is already a long way from the lost second half to his rookie 2013 season due to a hamstring injury. “If you’re going to do it, why not do it big? If you’re going to be the guy in the middle, be the guy in the middle. Be an every-down linebacker.
“Be able to block somebody up man-to-man. When they put a receiver in the slot, don’t flinch. Play the receiver in the slot. When it’s time to make a big tackle on third-and-short, make that tackle. That’s just how I see it.”
Capers and linebackers coach Winston Moss have noticed the growth in confidence. The unanimous opinion is it stemmed from that Patriots game, when he broke up a Tom Brady pass over the middle intended for tight end Rob Gronkowski, in addition to the two first-quarter run stops.
“I was glad to see a young player embrace the moment,” Moss said. “Big game, key situation, late part of the year versus the eventual Super Bowl champion, and he was able to handle that pressure and respond well and play well.”
Barrington’s approach that game was to think less and attack more. When it worked, he stuck with it and relied on everything he had absorbed in studying Capers’ defense since being drafted in the seventh round out of South Florida to carry him along.
He admitted he “wasn’t perfect” after the New England game, but Capers felt the Packers defense was playing its best down the stretch, and Barrington was one of the reasons why.
“You could see him grow every week,” Capers said. “As a signal caller, he’d make his calls with confidence. Once he recognized something, he could go from point A to point B. He’s got some quick twitch to him.”
He’s just not being too quick to “crown” himself anything, and that’s fine with his coaches, too.
“All Sam has to do is be himself, play to his skill set and improve, and he’ll be fine,” Moss said.