GREEN BAY - Last season was supposed to be a coming-out party for Green Bay Packers inside linebacker Sam Barrington.
After getting a taste of what it was like to be a starter in 2014, Barrington was set to replace A.J. Hawk as the captain of the defense and bring a new brand of toughness to the unit.
His party lasted one week. He suffered torn ligaments in his ankle in Week One against the Chicago Bears and spent the rest of the season on injured reserve. After an extensive surgery, he missed all of the OTAs and the first two weeks of practice.
But Tuesday, the lighter, more mobile version of Sam Barrington made his debut on the practice field.
"I’m going to tell you a secret," Barrington said after practice Wednesday. "In December, while I was injured, I was weighing about 258 pounds. I lost 22 pounds since then. And that’s probably been a big difference because I’m able to move different and shift my weight different.
"I didn’t lose any strength. I just lost the weight and dropped my body fat and my playing weight was about 8 more pounds than it’s going to be this year."
Barrington said he played at 247 pounds last year and was weighing a little under 240 now.
"Yeah, I just look like a rock, you know what I’m saying?" he said. "But I definitely lost weight and built more muscle."
Barrington was supposed to be the muscle in the middle last year, but the injury forced the Packers to scramble to fill his spot and before long they moved Clay Matthews from his outside position to Barrington's spot. Matthews had a terrific year and was excellent in coverage, but his sacks and pressures were down and a decision was made to move him back outside.
Through the first two weeks of camp, rookie Blake Martinez and second-year pro Jake Ryan have been manning the starting inside spots with Joe Thomas and Carl Bradford backing them up. Now, it's time to make room for Barrington, who will start to see a gradual increase in snaps after starting out slowly.
"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 of his return. "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.
"Take it day by day and see how it goes and we’ll basically make the assessment each week of the preseason."
Don't expect Barrington to play Friday in the exhibition opener against Cleveland at Lambeau Field. But in time, he should be given every opportunity to win his job back.
"Sam’s been working hard on the side with the training staff, so I think that obviously affects your condition," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "But then no matter how much you work off on the side, it’s getting out there and playing football. But I think it’s a good start for Sam.
"Now, we just have to keep progressing him in terms of the reps that he gets and that type of thing, and the key is being able to keep him out on the field."
He's going to have to show he can hit with the same force at a lighter weight while at the same time prove he's added enough quickness to be effective in coverage. Suffice it to say, he'd like to be more than just a run-down player, but with Martinez's strength being coverage, he'll have some competition.
First and foremost, he has to establish complete confidence in his ankle.
"Any injury that you deal with, I think the first season you come back you’re still going to be going through changes and growing confidence throughout. but you probably don’t get all the way comfortable with it until the following season," Barrington said. "So I’m gaining confidence. But when I’m on the field, I’m not thinking about it."