Starting Job on Line? No Way ...

After his first practice since tearing an ACL last season, inside linebacker Nick Barnett says he remains the leader of the defense. We have that testy exchange and much more in this Q&A.

The question hit Nick Barnett just about as hard as he wanted to hit someone during his first practice of training camp.

Considering how well Brandon Chillar has played in Barnett's place and how many big plays Desmond Bishop has made during training camp, does Barnett feel like his job is on the line?

"No. Not at all," Barnett said, with a rather long pause between those sentences. "They're great guys and they've made some great plays and have been playing great when I've been out. "I know what I can do. I feel like I'm the leader of this defense. For me to be sitting here talking about if I feel pressure for my spot, it's a little out of the ordinary. They're great guys. Chillar's playing awesome. He can do some great things. Bishop's always been doing great things. A.J. (Hawk is) playing great. I feel like I can do the same things."

Barnett, who coach Mike McCarthy all but ruled out for Saturday against Buffalo, was a limited participant at Monday's practice, doing everything but 11-on-11 drills. He was active in the seven-on-seven passing drill, making a quick read and almost breaking up a pass to tight end Donald Lee on one of the first snaps.

Like it or not, however, the question asked to Barnett was fair. Last week, McCarthy said Chillar was arguably the top performer among the linebackers. Bishop has been everywhere during training camp, and carried that forward with a dominant performance on Saturday against Cleveland.

"If Donald Driver was out and another receiver was playing good," Barnett said, "would you say, ‘Donald Driver, are you worried about your position?'"

Somehow, barring a trade, the coaches are going to have the cliché "good problem" on their hands in trying to figure out how to get four quality inside linebackers on the field. When Barnett was asked how he'd feel about being replaced by, say, Chillar on passing downs, he said: "I'm not going to even get to it because you're talking about stuff that's not going to happen." He scoffed at the notion of being a "two-down player."

Here is the less-testy portion of Barnett's exchange with reporters.

How did it go? Any problems physically or mentally?

It felt great to be out there competing and stuff. it's a different type of shape when you're out there running through plays going no-huddle. But it felt great, the knee felt great. It felt great being able to actually run some defense and be able to push some guys around a little bit and have some fun with it.

Would playing in the third preseason game be good enough?

It's very likely that I see some live ammunition come that third preseason game. There's a possibility that I won't, though. It's all dependent on what they see out there on the practice field. Maybe they'll see enough where they go, ‘OK, we don't need to throw you out there.' (Or) ‘Maybe we want to see you out there.' We'll see what happens.

Are you happy with how it went?

It felt great. I was able to run around. I don't think I was babying it. We'll have to see on film but I felt great, had some great breaks. Felt good hitting the bags, throwing the pads on with the helmet. The next step is starting to hit people. We'll take it slow; one step at a time.

Do you know why you didn't pass your physical at the start of camp?

No, I don't know. To be honest, I was in great shape. The knee looked great. There was probably some things that the doc probably saw, maybe a little lack of extension. It wasn't nothing super serious but enough that I could have maybe overcompensated for something and probably hurt something else. Whatever decision they make, they've had ACLs that have been successful after (surgery). I just listen to them and do what they tell me. It's stupid not to follow the directions of a surgeon. I just listen to what they say.

Did you think about it at all?

When I'm running and I'm playing football, I really don't even think about the knee. The worst I can feel the knee is when I wake up in the morning. That's the only time it gets a little stiff. Other than that, once I start walking around, all thoughts are off of the knee. I'm exploding on it without thought. It's my dominant leg, so it's a lot of explosion off of it. I don't even think about it, honestly.

Do you think the knee feels better now than if you had practiced at the start of camp?

I definitely do. The drastic improvements that we made two weeks ago to now is drastic. That's how it is at these levels of ACL repairments and rehabbing. Another two weeks, there's going to be more improvement. They say you don't usually feel the exact same knee until about a year later. But, there's no lack of performance in the knee, it's just feeling the same. I don't care how it feels. As long as it runs good.

Was it hard to sit on the sideline during the team period?

I wanted to do it, obviously. We've got a great plan. I've been sticking with the plan and I've been getting better, so I'm not going to just do something stupid. I'm sticking with the plan. They know what they're talking about. I'm not going to go stray away just to go out and prove something during practice that I don't even need to prove. But I do want to get the work. That's why I'm out there doing seven-on-seven.

Did you reach out to anyone during this process?

Mostly, I talked to Brady Poppinga. He's been through his knee surgery and has been successful. He's feeling good, running good. Like he used to tell me, when you're out there you just can't think about it. Just run through it and basically don't care.

Was it hard not to care? Even a little at the beginning of practice?

Not really. The only thing I was nervous about was schematically. Knowing if I was going to know my stuff or not, if I was going to mess up and stuff like that. That was the only thing I was nervous about. There was one time when Ryan Grant came and I was a little anxious to jump the route. I jumped outside and he cut and I was like, ‘OK, that was a rookie mistake.' Came back the next time and I was right on top of it. Those are the type of things you get only doing reps. It's your patience for routes, you get your patience for everything through repetition. That was the only thing I was worried about.

How did you do in that regard?

I thought I did great. For not doing any reps in OTAs, minicamps, I didn't have one mental error. I thought I did a great job. We'll see on film as far as my technique. I just can't wait to see what i look like exploding out and the type of plays that I made. I'm excited to see it.

Are you worried about how it's going to feel tomorrow?

I've done more work that than inside. When we practice and when I go on the side, I do way more work than what we do out there on the field. So, I know what I'm going to look like.

But working hard and being in football shape are different ...

Football shape is totally different than going in there and running cones. You're coming in there, you're playing, you're thinking, you're playing against a man, pushing. You get a little bit more adrenaline. I felt great. We went no-huddle and I didn't get too exhausted.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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