Packers Gambling With Barrington

If Barrington falls apart, the Packers could be scrambling to keep a defense together that is just a few pieces away from being solid enough to win a championship.

The Green Bay Packers made sweeping changes at inside linebacker immediately after the 2014 season.  They let go of A.J. Hawk, a former fifth-overall pick and Brad Jones, who began last year as the starter along side Hawk.  Neither had a 2014 to write home about and that the Packers chose to go in a different direction wasn't surprising by itself.  What stood out was what was left after Hawk and Jones were on other rosters.  Sam Barrington, Carl Bradford (a rookie from last year who was a healthy scratch in every single game), and Clay Matthews, who was experimentally moved there to help with a struggling run defense.  Knowing Matthews isn't a full time player on the inside, that left many question marks for 2015.  

In the draft, the Packers landed Jake Ryan in the fourth round.  Ryan walks and talks the part so far, but he hasn't put the pads on in live action yet so there's no way to truly know how much Green Bay can expect from him this season.  Bradford still hasn't turned any heads nor made any of his previous doubters feel any better about his chances of playing more this year.  He's not short on effort and he knows it's "put up or shut up" time, but it's his true ability on the field that will ultimately write his story.  

That leaves Barrington as the only other true full-time inside linebacker.  He showed signs of solid play last season, but had his struggles against the run, which is something teams need their middle guys to excel at.  In pass coverage, Barrington was OK and logged a few knock downs.  He doesn't lack for effort and his willingness to stick his nose on the ball.  It's getting to the ball that is one of the bigger question marks about Barrington's game and whether the Packers can rely on him to do it consistently.  

They'll need him to, as it's Barrington or bust this year.  If Bradford burns out before the season starts, the team is left with just Barrington and Ryan inside as full timers along with Matthews.  And Barrington is the elder statesman of that group, with just a season and a half under his belt.  While he showed flashes last year of how effective he can be, he's far from a sure thing to take a step this season and offer more to the Green Bay defense.  Barrington had just one sack last season and defended one pass all season.  If Green Bay is looking for the answer to Desmond Bishop, who was suddenly cast away after tearing his hamstring before the 2012 season, Barrington is far from it, at this point.  But lest we remember that Des Bishop wasn't Des Bishop from day one.  He got his chance to play during the 2010 season when injuries forced Nick Barnett out of the lineup and by season's end, Bishop was as solid as they come.  Barrington had just as much time last season but isn't as far along.  Can he get there?  I doubt he ever reaches that level, but there's room for growth.

If Barrington falls apart this season, and from his offseason interviews, he doesn't sound like a guy about to collapse, the Packers could be scrambling to keep a defense together that is just a few pieces away from being solid enough to win a championship.  While many are focusing on the young cornerbacks and how much better the offense can be, there's a lot riding on the middle of the Packers defense.  The answer is far from a sure thing, but Green Bay had to feel good enough about Barrington to wait as long as they did to address the position.  It's another in the line of calculated risks the team has taken in knowing when to keep and when to let go of a player.  If Barrington turns out to live up to his "keeper" status, the Packers' chances of cashing in at the end of this season get even bigger. 

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Jason is a freelance writer on staff since 2012 and also co-hosts Cheesehead TV Live, Pulse of the Pack and Pack A Day podcasts.  You can follow him on Twitter here

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Comments (42)

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EddieLee's picture

July 01, 2015 at 04:33 pm

They sure have struggled at finding play makers at ILB. No doubt the defense would be a bunch better with one or two world beaters inside but it probably is the least important position on the defensive roster. You can cover and scheme over ILB more then any position on the def roster. The way TT has gone about addressing ILB over the years reflects that. No high draft picks. Letting veterans walk. Not going after top-tier ILB's in free agency. Some roster positions on a team have to be filled with young role players and TT has gone that route at ILB.

Also, they play with only one ILB on the field quite a bit and with Matthews as an option I think they are comfortable with Matthews/Barrington penciled in as starters and Bradford/Ryan as reserves. It certainly isn't ideal to have that many question marks at ILB but much better then having those same uncertainties at CB, S, or OLB in Caper's defense.

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Portland Mark's picture

July 01, 2015 at 04:37 pm

I would've felt better if they did more to shore up the inside linebacker position. They seem to be counting on Ryan and Bradford as well to step up. Having Jones and Hawk gone will improve their defense.

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Tundraboy's picture

July 01, 2015 at 05:07 pm

We will be OK, maybe better than OK. I'm looking forward to seeing what the new blood will do. Not having to watch Hawk and Jones, while praying anymore is fine by me. It was a long time coming.

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senor embalador's picture

July 01, 2015 at 05:30 pm

One rolled up ankle away from a Ryan/Bradford (Thomas?) starting duo.

Yowzers.

This team is still mighty soft up the middle when it comes to defending the run. The triumvirate of Raji-Barrington-Ryan (or Bradford or Thomas scares no one).

They need Hubbard or Elliott or Neal or Perry to step up big time so that moving Clay inside won't cost them.

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Tundraboy's picture

July 01, 2015 at 06:03 pm

"They need Hubbard or Elliott or Neal or Perry to step up big time so that moving Clay inside won't cost them"

Absolutely what we need this year.

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Mojo's picture

July 01, 2015 at 11:46 pm

If we look at the LB group in whole, it's not so bad if one of the OLB's embalador mentioned performs.

I got a feeling the Pack plan on CM3 playing considerable snaps inside, especially early in the season. If that's the case he become one of the leagues top 10 ILB's. He was born to react, pursue and destroy. He looked so much more effective inside than his more recent outside play(where he often took himself out of plays by taking bad angles and wasn't getting home that much anyway). His production inside was as good as anyone. Lots of sacks too and pretty good coverage guy.

If CM3 plays inside the ILB position is actually pretty good. They can then bring Ryan or Bradford or someone else along slowly. I like Ryans size and temperament. I think he'll be OK given time. Bradford's a try hard guy, who was totally miscast as an OLB. We'll see what he can do this summer..

So the key is finding another OLB pass rusher. If I had to guess the most likely option would be a healthy Perry. It doesn't hurt this is his contract year too. If he performs they can keep Clay inside much more. Ironically the best chance at success from the ILB group is how the OLB's perform.

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GRB1531's picture

July 02, 2015 at 11:51 am

Mojo, You hit the nail right on the head. The defenses learned how to handle CM on the out side. CM had 14 tackles from the outside in the first 8 games last year. What a waste of talent!!. After they moved him inside he was considerably more effective. He will play there more and be much more effective from the inside and have the offense guess where he is coming from.

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dobber's picture

July 02, 2015 at 12:45 pm

"He was born to react, pursue and destroy."

Exactly. He's a high-motor, go-get-the-ball type player. Playing inside matches what he does pretty well. It's all about winning games. The problem is, they're paying him too much to play ILB very much.

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LeagueObsrvr's picture

July 03, 2015 at 06:08 pm

Well...they're paying him to be a playmaker, and as long as he is doing that playing inside or outside, he is worth every penny.

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croatpackfan's picture

July 02, 2015 at 07:33 am

I think we do not need to scare opponents, just win the games... Otherwise we can make some make ups and costumes for players that might scare opponents, but that will jot win the games...

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senor embalador's picture

July 02, 2015 at 10:41 am

No - fear is real.
Fear helps.

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Handsback's picture

July 01, 2015 at 05:57 pm

Right now Clay is the starter and when they run the sole ILB scheme....will be the guy in the middle. When they run two guys maybe Barrington or Ryan will do.

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The TKstinator's picture

July 01, 2015 at 06:44 pm

Also, GB can defend the run with their offense. Opponents tend to throw more often when they trail by 14 or more.
Pass rush and pass coverage are more important than run defense to GB.

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4thand1's picture

July 01, 2015 at 06:55 pm

Barrington's arrow should be pointing up. If he is as good as he's going to be its not going to cut it.

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PackerAaron's picture

July 01, 2015 at 11:39 pm

Barrington being "as good as he's going to be" was good enough to get them within a botched onside kick recovery from the Super Bowl.

Barrington isn't and probably won't be an All Pro. He doesn't need to be.

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Tundraboy's picture

July 02, 2015 at 09:55 am

Clearly

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Pack88's picture

July 01, 2015 at 11:04 pm

Don't forget Bishop wasn't Bishop until his 3rd season and he made a box car of "aggressive" mistakes. When Barnett went down I recall telling my friend s that while Bishop made a lot of mistakes he made them 100 miles per hour and he thumped them when he got there. Now Barrington is not the heavy hitter or kill-shot blitzer that DB was, but he is much better against the pass. SB would look better against the run if Howard Green were in there but I think fans should relax and let's see what the team is like in TC before we start worrying about regression.

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porupack's picture

July 02, 2015 at 04:25 am

I don't share the consensus above to give TT an excuse for his absence.
1) all of you above who love what CM III brought to the ILB last year; then that is sufficient to refute the stupid idea that ILB is diminished. It ain't diminished. If D-linemen in 3-4 defense are to eat up blockers, then someone needs to make tackles besides a safety.
I grant that none in the draft were available, or priority, but could have had several in FA. No excuse. In fact, a FA is a known quantity, whereas a draftee is a crap-shoot and a project. TT will, and should get roasted for negligence by bye week for relying too much on CM III.

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Tundraboy's picture

July 02, 2015 at 09:40 am

I agree with the point that ILB is not diminished. Must be strong in the middle. We certainly have seen what poor ILB play brings.

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dobber's picture

July 02, 2015 at 11:26 am

How often do the Packers actually employ 2 ILBs? 35% of the time, maybe? Yes, you need to have two, but one will be Barrington and the other (to oversimplify) will be CMIII some fraction of 35% of the defensive snaps. Is there enough depth to cover ILB and still play better than the cluster that was Hawk/Jones a year ago? I think so.

We can always argue about what happens if Barrington gets hurt, but you can do that about any position. Very few NFL teams are deep enough to absorb injuries to their starters at all positions. ILB is the position that TT is playing Russian roulette with.

Frankly, I'd rather they can cover and rush the passer. Those sub packages are going to be counted on far more than a 2-ILB set.

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porupack's picture

July 02, 2015 at 04:26 am

I don't share the consensus above to give TT an excuse for his absence.
1) all of you above who love what CM III brought to the ILB last year; then that is sufficient to refute the stupid idea that ILB is diminished. It ain't diminished. If D-linemen in 3-4 defense are to eat up blockers, then someone needs to make tackles besides a safety.
I grant that none in the draft were available, or priority, but could have had several in FA. No excuse. In fact, a FA is a known quantity, whereas a draftee is a crap-shoot and a project. TT will, and should get roasted for negligence by bye week for relying too much on CM III.

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senor embalador's picture

July 02, 2015 at 06:36 am

"I grant that none in the draft were available."

Anthoney was available.

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dobber's picture

July 02, 2015 at 12:47 pm

In round 1, yes. Are ILBs round 1 type players given the need the Packers had at CB? I would argue no.

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senor embalador's picture

July 02, 2015 at 02:08 pm

Anthoney/Rollins would have covered all the bases.

Hayward/Shields outside.
Rollins/Hyde inside.
Gunther to develop.
Anthony/Barrington @ ilb.

What they have now is overkill.
ilb is still lacking.
Hyde is a backup safety.

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dobber's picture

July 02, 2015 at 02:56 pm

I would argue that at the time, Gunter wasn't a Packer. He was a UDFA signed a couple days later, so he really doesn't retrofit into the draft strategy discussion. In the pass-happy NFL, I think that if you lose two of your top 4 CB (TWill/House), you've got to replace them...hence Rollins and Randall. Given Hayward's track record with soft-tissue injuries, they've got to have someone to plug-and-play.

I would agree with you that Anthony--since he went after Randall to NO--would have been there, but we don't know if Rollins would still have been there in round 2. I'm arguing needlessly since there were plenty of CB late in round 2 that could have fit the bill, also.

If I'm going to have a hole, though, I'd rather have it at ILB than at CB, and, frankly if the Packers were going to go LB at the end of round 1, I'd rather have seen a stud, athletic OLB who can get upfield and spell Peppers or CMIII when he moves inside than reaching for an ILB.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

July 02, 2015 at 03:47 pm

I let this go without commenting since it really is rehashing the draft. I agree with you Dobber that it was a good idea to double dip at CB. I would have thought that since CB was pretty deep, that it would have been wiser to take some other player (not an ILB) at #30, and I'd have been delighted to land Rollins at #62. Maybe take a flyer on Gaines or Shaw later, who dropped because there were concerns about them, or Nelson with the 3rd rounder. I thought Darryl Roberts would be fun to watch play, too.

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Lphill's picture

July 02, 2015 at 07:15 am

There are about 28 other teams worrying about how their QB will perform this coming season, I bet those teams wish they had our worries, like the man said RELAX .

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croatpackfan's picture

July 02, 2015 at 07:31 am

I think that, as many times before, you might see UDFA players to step up and make big noise... Starting with Thomas, Tavarius Dantzler and Josh Francis... I do not expect all of them to shine, but one will... And that is just enough to have 3 to 4 ILBs plus Clay part time... I count on Sam, Jack and 2 others (I'm not sure that Carl Bradford will be in the mix, injuries are strange at that time of the season!)...

Once again, Packers fans worries about the one position. I remember last season when most of the fans claims that moving from A. J. and Brad will be huge improvement. SO, this year we have that improvement! There is no A. J. as well as no Brad.

Also, you can see that more and more winning teams are not the teams with dangerous ground game (Seahawks are exception to the rule), but the teams with dangerous passing game. The best teams are with good to excellent ground game, which is support to excellent to brilliant passing game. So, I think this year draft was investment in the future, not resolving this season needs. I see first 4 picks on the draft as players who will shine next season in full and made Packers unbeatable. Addition of Aaron Ripkowski is pure replacement for John and Packers expect Aaron to take over the job next season, not immediate. So are the rest of the picks (Brett, Christian & Kennard).
I think only UDFA & UFA picks should be considered as players Packers will ask to show immediate playing abilities...

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RCPackerFan's picture

July 02, 2015 at 09:12 am

I'm actually one that really isn't concerned with the ILB position. Mathews will be playing their some. But Barrington showed since he started that he is as close to Bishop as we have had since Bishop left. He is a downhill attacking type of LB.

After him, I think Ryan could be an instant starter type of player. I think he will surprise some people. Also then we have Bradford who looked pretty decent in our limited time of seeing him playing ILB last year. I have heard he has reshaped his body so he will hopefully be a little quicker and with his redshirt year, hopefully he will be ready to go. One guy that I still think could be a surprise is Joe Thomas. He was looking good until he got injured. He could be a guy that could surprise people.

I'm really not to concerned with it to be honest.

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Tundraboy's picture

July 02, 2015 at 09:46 am

I feel the same way. Much more concerned with health of Hayward and Perry, and who's going to break out on DL.

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Since'61's picture

July 02, 2015 at 12:07 pm

The first thing that the Packers should do is put their 4 best LBs on the field. Right now that probably means Peppers and Neal at OLB with CM3 and Barrington at ILB. Since Peppers can't play every down then Perry (if and when healthy) can spell Peppers at OLB. Ryan and another LB can be backups at ILB or when CM3 moves inside. As for the remaining UDFAs they are all JAGs and probably will remain so. Let's see who makes it out of camp and go from there. Thanks, Since '61

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dobber's picture

July 02, 2015 at 12:48 pm

I would argue that Perry is actually the better base OLB if CMIII goes inside. Perry is far better at setting the edge.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

July 02, 2015 at 02:23 pm

Ditto.

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Tundraboy's picture

July 02, 2015 at 02:21 pm

Agree. To me Perry, Neal or someone else stepping up would be key. I like Hubbard.

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senor embalador's picture

July 02, 2015 at 04:15 pm

I'm tired of hearing Hubbard's name.
He never has been any good.
Not even at Alabama.

I shouldn't say "never". He probably dominated his conference in high school.

If he makes the 53 I'll be mildly surprised.
If he plays more than 30 defensive snaps the entire season I'll be straight-up stunned.

What do people (fans) see in this guy other than his height?

Yeah, yeah McCarthy said some nice things about him. Ever notice how McCarthy seems to always have nice things to say about young players who stick around GB during the offseason? It's because he wants all of them to do it, but he can't make them, so he makes sure to hold the ones who do up as an example.

It doesn't really mean those players are any good.

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Imma Fubared's picture

July 02, 2015 at 06:09 pm

Gambling? If he is all you got its not gambling. The guy can play because unlike the losers they were trying to play in front of him, he had speed.

My grandmother could out run and out tackle Hawk and the other bum they let go was no better.

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Tundraboy's picture

July 02, 2015 at 07:06 pm

Hubbard.

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khoavq's picture

July 03, 2015 at 09:40 am

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khoavq's picture

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