The Green Bay Packers will need to fix their fledging run defense without the help of one of their top run-stoppers.
Inside linebacker Sam Barrington was placed on injured reserve on Tuesday after sustaining a season-ending foot injury in Sunday’s 31-23 win over the Chicago Bears. His roster spot was used to activate defensive lineman Datone Jones from the reserve/suspended list.
Jones, the team’s first-round pick in 2013, was suspended for one game under the league’s substance-abuse policy for a marijuana citation he received in January after returning from the NFC title game in Seattle.
An NFL source indicated Tuesday afternoon that the Packers were fearing the worst after Barrington. He left in the second quarter and didn’t return.
Barrington declined an interview request on Monday, but was seen in the locker room on crutches with his right foot in a boot. However, he addressed the injury in an Instagram post on Tuesday afternoon, saying in part: "2015 is our year. I'll be back to tear (stuff) up next year. That's a promise."
A seventh-round pick in 2013, the 6-foot-1, 240-pound linebacker was a full participant in training camp prior to sitting out Aug. 1 with an ankle injury. It kept him out of the team’s preseason finale against New Orleans and limited him in practice all week. He started against Chicago and played 16 defensive snaps with his left ankle heavily wrapped.
He appeared to have difficulty putting pressure on his right foot after tackling a scrambling Bears quarterback Jay Cutler on the Packers’ second defensive series. It occurred after tight end Martellus Bennett dove to block safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, causing Barrington to corkscrew into Cutler.
Barrington stayed in the game for one more series before he was replaced by Nate Palmer. He didn't return with what the Packers said was an ankle injury.
The third-year linebacker will be difficult to replace. One of the leaders on the Packers' defense, he also is one of its top run defenders. The Packers gave up 189 rushing yards to the Bears, the second-most allowed league-wide in Week 1.
A seventh-round pick in 2013, he took over as a starter last season and played a large role in the team's improved run defense in the second half of the season. He finished the season with 53 tackles and a sack in 14 games, seven of them starts.
The Packers felt so strongly about Barrington's upside they parted ways with veterans A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones and Jamari Lattimore this offseason and added only fourth-round pick Jake Ryan as competition at the position.
On Monday, defensive coordinator Dom Capers called Barrington “the quarterback of the defense.” Known for his aggressive play and eagerness to tackle, defensive lineman Mike Daniels often credited Barrington for bringing attitude to the defense.
“We lost Sam fairly early in the game,” Capers said. “Of course Sam has done a really nice job of being the leader out there, making the calls and all that type of thing. I thought Nate Palmer, for it happening so fast in the opening game, went in and did a good job with it.”
It's Barrington's second stint on season-ending injured reserve in three seasons. He missed the final eight games of his rookie season because of a hamstring injury. As a third-year player, he'll earn his entire $585,000 salary despite being placed on IR.
The Packers now turn to Palmer on a full-time basis. A converted outside linebacker, Palmer finished with six tackles in 61 defensive snaps against the Bears. He missed all of the 2014 season with an MCI injury he sustained in the preseason finale, but has adapted well to the move inside.
It also means Clay Matthews likely will be pushed inside more, as well. According to Pro Football Focus, the five-time Pro Bowler played 54 of his 77 defensive snaps at inside linebacker.
Ryan, a fourth-round pick out of Michigan, is the only other inside linebacker on the roster and would be the next player up whenever Matthews rushes outside in the base or nickel defenses. The Packers have two other inside linebackers on their practice squad, Carl Bradford and James Vaughters, who are both converted outside rushers.
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