In the midst of an impressive training camp, Barrington was going nowhere fast.
Good days on the practice field. Impressive performances in the games. None of it made a difference on the preseason depth chart.
“You just have to be patient,” Barrington said at the time. “Are you ready for it when it comes? That’s the most important part. Some guys jump into a situation too quick and then, the next thing you know, they’re looking for somebody else to replace that guy. I don’t want to be that guy. I want to be prepared when my opportunity comes.”
Barrington’s opportunity came two weeks ago against New England. Making his first NFL start, Barrington made two impact tackles on the opening series and won a game ball in the Packers’ 26-21 victory.
“It means a lot,” Barrington said of the game ball on Thursday. “Just straight up with you, I liked it but I’m chasing something bigger. I want to continue to have success and continue to be consistent and I’m going to keep working. Of course, I’m chasing more game balls but it’s all about the big picture, and that’s where my focus is.”
Barrington started in midseason games against Carolina and New Orleans before seeing his playing time diminish the next three weeks. Then, in the biggest game of the season to date, Barrington got the call. Against New England, with its top-scoring offense and Hall of Fame-bound quarterback, Barrington was back in the starting lineup in place of the franchise’s career leader in tackles, A.J. Hawk.
It’s hard to imagine a bigger vote of confidence from the coaching staff.
“That was a big step for him because he’s been taking steps,” linebackers coach Winston Moss said. “He’s shown improvement. He’s always been a guy that did a very good job of preparation and is very diligent. He’s a great guy. When you’re looking for that progress and you’re looking for that measuring stick, I thought after the game that there was a number of times where he showed up big in one of the biggest stages that you can have.”
Barrington remained in the starting lineup for last week’s game against Atlanta. While Barrington played 44 snaps, Hawk received just eight.
“Obviously, to have the confidence to put a guy in there and put the load on him, you have to see it on the practice field and feel good about what you see there,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “And then, you never really know until the guys are in the game how they’re going to respond. These guys that gradually come along, you see them play a few more plays and they gain confidence and you gain more confidence in their ability to go in there and play.”
Entering training camp, Barrington was the unknown behind starters Hawk and Brad Jones. Jamari Lattimore started four games in 2013 and had been one of the team’s top special-teams players. And Barrington? A seventh-round pick out of South Florida in 2013, he played in seven games — with all of his action coming on special teams — before spending the second half of the season on injured reserve.
“Confidence” has been the difference as the season has progressed, Capers said.
“I think we’ve always seen the quick-twitch and the explosiveness that he’s had, but it’s hard if you aren’t confident in your assignments to be able to just go out there and turn it loose,” Capers said. “You’re more controlled because you don’t want to make a mistake and you’re not quite sure at times in terms of the movement and the gap fills. Once you get that down and you’re confident, you’re just playing and you’re hitting it and you’re playing a lot more (instead of thinking), I think that’s when you see his aggressiveness come out.”
In each of his two recent starts, Barrington recorded seven tackles. It’s a small sample size, but what was once the last-ranked run defense in the league allowed 84 and 91 rushing yards in those games.
That’s good. Barrington doesn’t want to be merely good.
“That means a lot. It definitely means a lot,” Barrington said of the opportunity. “I don’t know if there’s one word that I could give you to basically define what it meant. You know, it definitely means a lot and I just want to repay them by continuing to be what they see in me and grow further and grow beyond the player that they see in me.”
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