GREEN BAY – Sam Barrington was tested last season, but not the way the Packers’ inside linebacker originally expected.
Barrington’s career was on the upswing after a breakout campaign in 2014. He entered the 2015 regular-season opener in Chicago as an every-down linebacker in Green Bay’s defense.
Teammates admired his attitude and demeanor. Coaches praised his work ethic and the time he invested in transforming himself from a seventh-round flier to a presumptive starter.
Then, it was all turned upside down after Barrington sustained a significant foot injury on his 15th snap against the Bears. He was placed on injured reserve two days later.
“It was too bad what happened to him a year ago,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “Because I think that second half of the (2014) season the year before he really helped us and made progress. We obviously thought a lot of him.”
Instead of stewing over the disappointment, the fourth-year linebacker dove into his recovery and tried to make the most out of the lost year both on and off the field.
Barrington stayed with the team for the remainder of the season, choosing to rehab in Green Bay rather than at a workout facility elsewhere in the country. He used his extra free time to mentor his teammates and increase his charitable efforts, including participation on the Packers’ 11th
annual Tailgate Tour.
The lessons Barrington learned are the same ones he carried over to this offseason when he sat out of a majority of the on-field work during organized team activities and minicamp.
“It takes an immense amount of patience,” Barrington said. “Within that patience, you have to find ways to get better every day. It’s been an interesting journey. It’s not over. I have some more patience to, I guess, display. I’m having fun with it.”
When Barrington returns to the field, he knows it’s up to him to show he’s the same ascending player he was a year ago. He again must prove himself like he did when the defense turned to him midway through the 2014 season.
That year, the insertion of Barrington and Clay Matthews at inside linebacker jump-started the defense down the stretch. Barrington, who played only one defensive snap as a rookie, finished his second NFL season with 68 tackles and a sack in 14 games (seven starts).
Last year’s setback robbed the Packers of one of their emotional leaders. Defensive lineman Mike Daniels frequently credits Barrington and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix for the attitude they’ve instilled in the defense.
“It’s tough missing a season,” assistant linebackers coach Scott McCurley said. “It’s tough on him, but at the same time, he’s been into it, he’s been doing all he can and he’s got to continue medical-wise and in the classroom and he’s got to be ready to step back in.
“Those mental reps have to count for something. You can’t take a step back with it. You have to keep moving forward.”
With the Packers planning to move Matthews back outside, they added Stanford linebacker Blake Martinez in the fourth round of this year’s draft to help fortify the position.
Even with Matthews relinquishing reps inside, competition will be fierce this summer with Barrington, 2015 fourth-round pick Jake Ryan, Joe Thomas and Carl Bradford.
That still hasn’t stopped Barrington from lending a hand to Martinez when called upon.
“He’s been a lot of help,” Martinez said. “Just explaining things, telling me from his experience what he sees and what I should look at on certain plays, and the little fundamental things that he learned throughout his four years here that maybe we haven’t had time to dive into.”
So why does Barrington feel the need to help a possible competitor? It goes back to his first two NFL seasons when A.J. Hawk was gracious in giving him advice.
Barrington enjoys interacting with teammates, especially now that the 25-year-old linebacker is the most veteran presence in the room.
“My No. 1 job is to be a great teammate and that comes in all different shapes and forms,” Barrington said. “So my job is to be a great teammate and help out wherever I can right now.”
Barrington calls his rehab a “beautiful process” that’s allowed him to grow as a player and a person. He credits the team’s training staff for helping him deal with the roller-coaster of emotions that can accompany recovery.
He doesn’t dwell on last year, citing Bob Marley’s “Everything’s going to be alright” as his mantra. Once he is medically cleared, Barrington feels he’ll be able to get back up to speed quickly.
As for his role this year, Barrington is making no predictions. This process hasn’t been about reclaiming a particular spot, but simply getting back to what he does best.
“My focus is to continue to grow as a player,” Barrington said. “When it’s time to play a game, the best players will be on the field. Whether I’m that guy or not, it’ll be judged basically off whether I prepare myself the right way.”