Is Sam Barrington the answer at ILB for the Packers?

Sam Barrington

By the standards of most NFL teams, the Green Bay Packers had a successful 2014 season. They went undefeated at home, won their division, and were a few plays away from being the NFC’s representative in the Super Bowl. But the fans and the organization itself are used to this level of success, and often, anything less than a championship is seen as a wasted season. Changes have already been made with the coaching staff and personnel, and others may be coming. One major question mark is at the inside linebacker position. Longtime starter AJ Hawk just had surgery and it’s no sure thing the Packers will bring him back.  Brad Jones is already gone. Clay Matthews’ future role is nebulous at best, and Jamari Lattimore seemed to have played his way out of a starting spot as the season went on. The only reasonably consistent player at the position is Sam Barrington.

The 2013 7th round pick out of South Florida played in 14 games last season and finished with 39 solo tackles, a sack, and a pass breakup. Towards the end of the season, he seemed to be considered the most reliable option at ILB by the coaching staff. The question is, do the Packers have a serious need at the position going into the 2015 draft?

In coverage:

New England, Week 13

In this play, the defense is playing Cover-6 zone, where Barrington (red box) is responsible for the hook zone to the side away from the pass strength.

Barrington ZCV vs NE(1)

 

Gronkowski (red route) is running a deep cross, while the receiver to Barrington’s side is running a fade and the tailback is going to the flat after play action.

Barrington ZCV vs NE(2)

Barrington is put in a bit of a dilemma. He has Gronkowski coming across the field behind him and Blount going to the sideline in front of him. However, because in Cover-6, Shields is responsible for the flat, Barrington should maintain depth and play the hook zone (yellow).

Barrington ZCV vs NE(3)

Brady gives a slight pump fake to Blount, which is enough to get Barrington to bite and move out of the throwing lane. Once Gronkowski is out from behind Hawk, he is wide open.

Barrington ZCV vs NE(4)

…which looks like this from a different angle. Brady anticipates Gronkowski getting open, and it results in a gain of almost 30 yards.

Buffalo, Week 15

Again, the Packers are in a Cover-6 defense in the red zone, with Barrington playing the hook zone with inside position on the tight end, who is running a seam. The slot receiver, Woods, is running a drag.

Barrington ZCV vs BUF (1)

 

Barrington drops back one or two steps to close the window on the seam route, but then passes him off to the safety, who is responsible for that deep quarter of the field. Barrington then recognizes that the QB is throwing the drag, and drives on the receiver.Barrington ZCV vs BUF (2)

He makes a perfectly timed tackle and stops him for a gain of 4 on second and eighteen.

Barrington ZCV vs BUF (3)

Boom.

Buffalo, Week 15

1st and 15- The Packers are in a zone defense, possibly Cover-3 or Cover-4. Barrington again has a zone responsibility in the middle of the field. The Bills are running a halfback screen with the center and the left guard releasing into the left flat.

 

Barrington screen vs BUF (1)

 

The way the defense is drawn up, Barrington and Micah Hyde are the only two defenders close enough to make a tackle before the tailback gets downfield. If the offensive linemen execute well enough, both defenders will be blocked and Jackson will be able to get into space.Barrington screen vs BUF (2)

 

However, Barrington shows great recognition as soon as the linemen move forward to set up the screen. He uses his speed to essentially overpursue and force Jackson to slow down and cut back inside. The best part of this play, however, is that his momentum to the outside forces both linemen to try and block him, leaving Hyde unblocked to make the tackle before the back gains too many yards.

Barrington screen vs BUF (3)

 

 

Vs. the Run

1st and 10- Barrington is lined up to the strong side of the offensive formation and his responsibility is the outside gap. The Bills appear to be running inside zone, but the Packers line does a great job of stuffing up the middle and forcing Jackson to bounce the run to the outside.Barrington outside zone vs BUF (1)

 

After the handoff, Jackson sees there is nowhere to go, so tries to get around the end. This sets up a one on one tackling situation with an unblocked Barrington.

Barrington outside zone vs BUF (2)

Barrington’s strength is open field tackling. He makes a solid tackle on Jackson and brings him down for a gain of 3 yards.

Barrington outside zone vs BUF (3)

 

 

Dallas, Divisional Round Playoff

2nd and 3- Barrington is lined up to the strong side of the formation again, but this time the play is run away from him. His job is now to “clean up” and make sure Murray can’t cut his run back inside once he’s reached the second level.Barrington outside zone vs DAL (1)

 

Barrington outside zone vs DAL (2)However, almost immediately after the snap, center Travis Frederick reaches him with a perfect second-level block. Barrington either tries to push Frederick back, which is unsuccessful due to his smaller size and higher pad level, or is totally inadequate in his attempt to get off the block.Barrington outside zone vs DAL (3)

Frederick maintains his block until the whistle has blown, and had Murray broken free and cut back inside, Barrington would have been completely removed from the play.

 

In addition to defending the run and the pass, a starting inside linebacker must be able to call plays and audibles for the defense, as well as help other players adjust to shifts in the offensive formation. This has been Hawk’s responsibility for the past few years. However, Barrington showed some of this ability in the playoff game vs. Dallas. The tight end was lined up on the right side of the offensive line, but then motioned to the left side. Barrington recognized the shift and conveyed this to the defensive linemen, and the run was limited to a gain of three yards.

 

 

Barrington QB of defense vs DAL (1)

 

Overall, Barrington has shown flashes of play that look like that of a quality NFL starter. However, his production is inconsistent at best, especially in the pass game. He does not seem to have a natural feel for zone coverage, which is understandable due to his limited experience as a starter. Against the run, he is a better than average open field tackler when unblocked, and is decent at taking on lead blocks without giving ground. He also occasionally shows the ability to make a lead blocker miss using his hands and good footwork. However, when in sideline-to-sideline pursuit of outside run plays, he is easily blocked by offensive linemen and shows poor ability to get off blocks once engaged with the offensive player. Also, when the area between him and the ball carrier is cluttered, he has difficulty finding his way through to get in on a tackle. When his path is unclear, he is very hesitant to commit and often can be found arriving late to a pile with the ball carrier already on the ground.

In conclusion, Barrington shows some of the physical and mental ability required to be a quality starter. Although he has potential, there is no guarantee he will develop into one, and if he does, it may not be by next season. Therefore, even if Clay Matthews is kept primarily at inside linebacker next season, the position is still one of major need when Draft Day rolls around.

Erik Fretland is an avid Packers fan currently attending the University of Oklahoma. He will be writing some posts here from time to time. You can follow Erik on twitter at @erikfretland.

  • Ed Schoenfeld

    Inside Linebacker would be a major need even if Barrington had already developed into a consistent starter. Given that Hawk is aging out and last year’s rookies Bradford and Joe Thomas are still completely raw, the Packers need at least 2 draft picks (one high) or a high pick and a decent ‘street’ FA at the position. You don’t want Matthews stuck with the inside job, no matter how often you put him there to thicken things up on base downs. (Yes, I am completely discounting Lattimore, as far as I can see he played himself out of a job.)

    • Jeff

      What about Mulumba and Palmer they will be back competing for the job also

      • dobber

        You beat me to this. I think Mulumba has a better chance of contributing in the future, but the Packers are better off finding a capable veteran on the open market and drafting a high-ceiling player this spring…one of them better be able to run with backs and TEs.

        I think Eric Kendricks or Denzel Perryman would look great in green-and-gold, and I love Taiwan Jones from MSU as a mid-to-late-round inside plugger and special teams contributor (his combine 40 time is a bit concerning, though). All three are sure tacklers and Perryman/Kenrdicks gets you an athletic coverage guy.

        • Ed Schoenfeld

          Mulumba and Palmer are OLBs. Not saying they can’t be moved inside, but so far they have not been and even if the team tries that it is not a sure thing.
          So ILB is a need regardless.

      • Palmer and mulumba are NOT the answer for the hole we need to fill

  • Razer

    Removing A.J. Hawk from the discussion, everyone that we have for ILB is a project. Barrington plays with a lot of heart. I am not sure what the brain and instinct factor are for him in this defense but that will determine his true ceiling at ILB. Unless we acquire a proven free agent or top round pick we are going to get much the same. We simply are not developing good ILB’ers. As much as we haven’t invested in top talent, we might be looking at a coaching problem. We have witnessed a steady regression in Hawk’s play and not seen much from all the other players worked through the system. Oh, to have a DeAndre Levy in the middle.

    • dobber

      “Unless we acquire a proven free agent or top round pick we are going to get much the same.”

      I think we all agree that every ILB on the Packer roster is replaceable, and this is probably the best route to do it (putting an “and” in there for the “or”).

  • Lattimore has a higher football IQ and better speed, so we’ll see how he’s able to respond after the injury. Barrington would be good in run downs with Lattimore hopefully coming in for passing downs.

  • Jeff

    I like Joe Thomas he was making a case last year to make the roster then he injured his knee and they settled released him but soon as he was cleared they brought him back to stay on the PS. Soon as the season was over they resigned him so I am excited to see if he can up his game again to make a run for the starting ILB spot. Lets not forget they have been molding Bradford as well so he could take the next step at the spot.

    • Ed Schoenfeld

      Thomas is interesting, but being honest he is still a project. I think they want at least 8 guys fighting for those jobs and right now with Thomas (and counting Clay as an ILB) they have 4.
      So at least Lattimore or another veteran Free agent, 2 draft picks, and another FA (could be an undrafted rookie.)

      • Jeff

        Thomas,Bradford,Mulumba,Hubbard,Palmer,Barrington,Elliot, and Lattimore if he resigns will make eight then there is Perry they could move inside to keep Matthews on the outside.

  • Razer

    With the release of A.J. Hawk somebody(s) will need to step-up. No turning back…

  • dobber

    I wasn’t surprised that Hawk was released, but I was surprised by the timing of it. Jones needed to go, and he was a goat amongst the media and fans. Letting him go was symbolic…showed that the team was making a move to cut bait. Must be some kind of bonus or proration that was about to kick in?

    Anyway, it leaves the cupboard remarkably bare at ILB. Some might say that a pairing of Barrington and Lattimore has a higher floor than Hawk and Jones, but in the absence of any additional pressure I figured that Hawk would hang around until at least draft time when the Packers could assess what they have before making this decision.

    Hawk will play somewhere in 2015 if he wants to continue his career. He’s probably better suited to play in an even front and always seemed a bit mis-cast in a 3-4.

    While he had many detractors, the man was a warrior. Salute to you, Mr. Hawk, and best wishes.

    • Hawk had a $250K workout bonus that would have been earned in April. He had an $800K roster bonus (not sure when that would have been earned: often 3rd day of the new league year but GB often prorates them over the regular season). For Hawk it is better to be released now so he can sign as a Street FA with another team ASAP. GB owed him that respect.

  • If Peppers returns and plays at the same level, I advocate CM3 playing inside next year in the hybrid role. I see that as his highest and best use. It would be nice if Jayrone Elliott or Perry develops for depth as I would like to limit Peppers to 30 snaps per game.

    Barrington was okay as a 2-down ILB. Not sure if he can be average on passing downs. I thought Mulumba was an OLB?

    • Erik Fretland

      I agree, I think Clay is a lot more effective inside. At this stage, Barrington probably should come off the field on passing downs. But I’m hopeful he can improve.