Sam Barrington’s back, and Mike Daniels liked what he saw.
Rather, Daniels liked what he heard.
“The pads popped a lot louder when he was out there yesterday,” Daniels said after Wednesday’s steamy training camp practice. “It’s definitely nice. To see him and Blake (Martinez) in there together, that’s two big, scary-looking dudes in the middle.”
Barrington, who made such a dramatic difference to the Green Bay Packers’ defense down the stretch in 2014, opened the 2015 season as the team’s three-down inside linebacker. However, he sustained an injured in the opening game at Chicago. He missed the rest of the season and wasn’t cleared to practice until Tuesday night.
“It kind of felt like the first day of school because I didn’t know what to expect, and it just felt good,” Barrington said. “I’m still on a high from it, but I also know that I have to get ready to play Jacksonville. That’s my hometown, too. Once the season comes around, there ain’t going to be any more pacing.”
Without Barrington, the Packers went through the offseason with Martinez, a rookie fourth-round pick, and Jake Ryan, a fourth-round pick last year, as the No. 1 tandem at inside linebacker. However, Ryan is out with an injured hamstring, allowing Barrington to step right back into the starting lineup alongside Martinez. If he can stay healthy, he might not relinquish his spot in the lineup.
“I work hard, regardless,” Barrington said. “I don’t care if I have three teddy bears in back of me on the depth chart. That’s how I am. I’ve been playing football going on 20 years, since I was 6 years old. Hard work has always been my lunch box. It doesn’t matter who I’m playing against. It doesn’t matter who I’m playing with. I’m going to work, regardless.”
With Barrington’s physicality and Martinez’s athleticism, they have the potential of forming a solid tandem. In his short time on the field with Martinez, Barrington has come away impressed with the rookie.
“Blake communicates better than any inside linebacker that I’ve been in there with,” he said. “Not to take anything away from the guys I’ve been in there with in the past, but that’s just what he brings to the table. He’s a great communicator. For a guy like me who’s locked in and looking at everything, he’s like a second voice in my head. He’s just talking about what’s going on, so he’s been doing a great job.”
Barrington acknowledges his comeback is going to be an ongoing process that might not end until next season. He says he’s in the confidence-building phase of his comeback but felt good enough about the foot that he hasn’t been thinking through the action.
Now, can Barrington put it all together? Two of his first three seasons have ended on season-ending injured reserve. There’s no doubt about his intelligence, leadership and physicality. Even while he barely played 10 snaps last season, it was a gratifying year. Among his accolades, he was the Packers’ nominee for the prestigious Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, his teammates voted him the club’s winner of the Ed Block Courage Award and he was given Pop Warner Football’s annual Humanitarian Award.
“It’s been a journey,” he said. “Of course, it’s no secret all the success I’ve had off the field. A lot of times when you’re gaining success, you don’t take the time to look back and say I need to pat myself on the back, but I’m proud of how I was able to grow as a person throughout this journey, because life isn’t all about football. When we have to walk away from this game one day, you’ve got to leave your playbook here but you’ve got to take your character and your heart with you. Those are the things that I make sure I continued to build on. But I feel good coming back. I don’t feel like I fell off any. I’m going to continue to condition and continue to stay in the playbook and get back out there with the guys and take it from there.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.