Sam Barrington rolled through the Green Bay Packers’ locker room on a scooter Thursday, a walking boot on his right foot. He was a long way from training camp, when he was an ascending linebacker anticipating his first season as a full-time starter.
A long way from where he’s expecting to be a year from now, too.
Barrington was placed on injured reserve last month after injuring his foot during the Packers’ opener at the Chicago Bears. As he was diving toward a ball carrier, Barrington collided awkwardly with Bears tight end Martellus Bennett. Barrington stayed in the game, even though he could hardly put weight on his foot.
Soon after, his season was over.
“I took the time,” Barrington said, “and we went through all the medical steps to see what the problem was, and it just turned out the way it was.”
Barrington needed foot surgery, defensive coordinator Dom Capers said Thursday. When he returned, Barrington said, his mind was in a “low state” for a couple weeks after the injury. “It was extremely tough,” he said. Barrington wrestled mentally with his season being over so soon.
Now, he’s looking forward.
Asked whether he could become the same ascending player he was before the injury, Barrington didn’t hesitate.
“Better,” Barrington said.
It might seem far-fetched to return after a year away from the field and be a better player, but Barrington explained. He’s seeing the game differently now, a fresh perspective. The big picture, he said.
When he was playing, Barrington said, there was little time to watch other NFL games. Now, every Sunday is a 12-year film study.
“I’m analyzing it from more of a coaching perspective,” Barrington said. “Like, if I was this guy, what would I have done better? I’m watching just about every game that comes on, on Sunday. When I was playing, I just didn’t do that. I just didn’t have time.
“Every game that comes on throughout the week, I’m watching. I’m watching the linebackers, the playing style of the tight ends, the running backs and what the quarterback is doing pre-snap and post-snap. It’s fun, man.”
He’s also watching the Packers.
Yes, Barrington has been pleased with how his defense has played over the past few games. He takes pride in it, even if he can’t contribute to it. The defense’s success is what he envisioned during the offseason, back when he expected to be one of its leaders.
“It makes me feel good,” Barrington said. “Even though I’m not playing, it just feels good to be a part of a winning team. It’s hard to win in the NFL. To see these guys playing the way they’re out there playing, we have some ways to go but we’re just flat-out playing faster than everybody. To see that, I love it and I just want to be here and continue to give these guys support.”
Barrington has remained close to the team, similar to how defensive tackle B.J. Raji spent last season when a torn biceps in training camp sent him to the injury reserve. He’s been in all the meetings, Capers said. Always paying attention.
“Sometimes he doesn’t say anything,” Capers said, “but then he’ll come and ask a question to where you know he’s been tuned into all that.”
Barrington said he’s found strength from encouraging words throughout the locker room. Safety Morgan Burnett, especially, has helped keep the young linebacker’s spirits high, Barrington said. Burnett has overcome his own struggles, missing four of the Packers’ first five games with a calf strain.
Barrington and Burnett aren’t the only players who have missed time with injuries. This season has been stressful for the Packers’ medical staff. Receiver Jordy Nelson is out for the season with a torn ACL. Receiver Davante Adams has missed a couple weeks with a sprained ankle. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga missed three weeks.
Yes, Barrington noticed, injuries happen to everybody. Not just him.
“Once I started seeing other guys get hurt,” Barrington said, “it really changed because when you play football, you’re in love with the glitz and glamour and you forget that bad stuff can happen. I’m grateful for my injury, because there are things I’m gonna go through that’s gonna help me bring out things about me as a person that probably wouldn’t happen had I not got hurt.”
There’s a lot of time for Barrington to fill in his day, and not just Sundays. Barrington said he’s taking advantage of the extra time, getting things “squared away” in his personal life.
Barrington has thought about being a coach when his football career ends, he said. This season, getting the big-picture perspective, could be beneficial to him later in life. But he isn’t thinking about that now.
He’s going to enjoy watching his team play the rest of 2015, while getting ready for 2016.
“I’m in a good place right now,” Barrington said. “The whole low state, I’m over that. It took a couple weeks. I don’t want to say ‘looking forward to,’ but I’m preparing myself for ups and downs, because that’s just how it’s going to go. It’s a long season for these guys, so it’s going to be a long season for me, too.”
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