The Green Bay Packers suffered a significant blow to their defense when they placed linebacker Sam Barrington on season-ending injured reserve on Tuesday.
To fill the roster spot, Datone Jones was added to the roster. He was suspended for Sunday’s game at Chicago due to a violation of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.
Barrington was limited participation at practice last week due to an ankle injury. He was listed as questionable on Friday’s injury report but started and played 16 snaps before heading to the sideline with what the team reported as an ankle injury. On Monday, he made a brief appearance in the locker room with a boot on his right foot. He declined interview requests and left with the aid of crutches.
By starting five of the final eight games and playing significantly in a sixth game, Barrington was a major reason why Green Bay ranked sixth in rushing yards allowed (86.4) and seventh in yards per carry (3.60) during the second half of the regular season.
Barrington added a physical presence that was badly needed in the middle of the defense. And in just his third season, he was growing into a leader of the team and a key communicator on defense.
Without him, the Packers’ attempt to cure the league’s 31st-ranked run defense got a bit harder. So, too, did their quest to stop powerful Marshawn Lynch in Sunday’s rematch against Seattle. Nate Palmer replaced Barrington on Sunday and tied for the team lead with six solo tackles and seven total tackles. While he’s shed the bulky club cast that he wore for most of training camp, he’s still dealing with a hand injury.
“Sam has done a really nice job of being the leader out there, making the calls and all that type of thing,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said on Monday. “I thought Nate Palmer, for it happening so fast in the opening game, went in and did a good job with it. ... You’re on the road. It’s the opening game. The guy who has been kind of the quarterback of your defense, you lose him early. Nate went in and did a commendable job.”
Palmer was a sixth-round pick in 2013 at outside linebacker. He was in danger of not making team last summer when the team shifted him to inside linebacker. He then sustained a knee injury and spent the entire season on injured reserve.
Palmer didn’t miss any time with the injury and saw plenty of work with the No. 1 defense in place of Clay Matthews, who was sidelined for portions of camp with knee and elbow injuries. What he didn’t do, however, was work alongside Matthews as the No. 1 pair.
“I think Nate did some really good things,” coach Mike McCarthy said on Monday. “I think he made some mistakes but still had productivity. That’s something that he can definitely build off of.”
While Matthews and Palmer figure to be the starting tandem going forward, it will be interesting to see what adjustments, if any, the Packers have to make with Matthews. Do the Packers have enough faith in Palmer and rookie Jake Ryan to line up Matthews at outside linebacker? Or is Matthews stuck inside in everything but the dime package, when the team needs only one inside linebacker?
At 6-foot-2 and 248 pounds, Palmer brings a nice blend of size and intelligence. That's why he stayed ahead of Ryan and Carl Bradford, despite the injury.
"One hand, not ideal, but he takes control out there," assistant linebackers coach Scott McCurley said during training camp. "He has great command. He’s a big-bodied guy. He can get downhill and do a great job vs. the run and really limit those ... where sometimes we were giving up too many 4-yard gains that he’s limiting it to 2-yard gains, no-yard gains in the hole, which we need to do. He’s new to the inside. He’s new to the vision and all that stuff. But his command, his strength, his size and his pass-rush ability are great things."
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.