Wes and Ryan discuss the Packers' loss of Sam Barrington to a season-ending injury and their mindset going into Sunday's game against the Seahawks. (Sept. 16, 2015) Weston Hodkiewicz and Ryan Wood | Press-Gazette Media
As soon as Nate Palmer heard the news, the Green Bay Packers inside linebacker immediately picked up his phone to reach out to Sam Barrington.
Privately, Barrington confirmed he was going to miss the entire season due to a right foot injury he suffered in the first quarter of Sunday’s 31-23 win over the Chicago Bears, a tough blow for a defense that’s less than a week removed from giving up more than 400 yards to the Bears’ offense.
While the Packers haven’t formally named his replacement, Palmer appears to be the logical choice. The 6-foot-2, 248-pound linebacker was drafted in the same 2013 NFL draft as Barrington and completed the switch from outside to inside this summer.
The two linebackers were roommates when they first got to Green Bay and have remained close ever since. Although Barrington wasn’t in the locker room Wednesday, Palmer said his disposition was surprisingly upbeat during their conversation.
“He was all positive,” Palmer said. “He was all about telling me, ‘Hey Nate, don’t worry about me. Go seize the opportunity. Play your game and be who you are.’ The conversation wasn’t even about him. It was more, ‘This is your opportunity. Seize it.’”
Palmer shied away from calling himself the starter, leaving that decision up to the coaching staff. McCarthy offered little about the plan for replacing Barrington other than to say “different schemes, different players” will be involved in the defensive preparation.
It is a tough blow for a defense that already was considerably thin at inside linebacker. It’ll put more spotlight on Matthews’ conversion to the position and rookie Jake Ryan, who didn’t take a defensive snaps against the Bears but is the only other natural inside linebacker on the active roster.
“Nate’s one of those guys that you can just plug him in and he does his job," Matthews said. "It’s an opportunity for these young guys, especially Nate, and Jake Ryan to step up. They need to be ready. In years prior, good teams have beat us with the lack of depth, so it’s time for these guys to step up and show what they’re capable of."
Palmer isn’t 100 percent, either. He’s been dealing with a left hand injury since early in training camp. He’s since downsized from a club to a padded splint. He’s adapted to the apparatus, but it still limits his ability to tackle and disengage from blockers.
The defense won’t have much room for error this Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, whose quarterback Russell Wilson and running back Marshawn Lynch serve as their own thunder-and-lightning combination.
If Palmer is called upon to replace Barrington Sunday, he’s just going to be himself.
“It’s just an opportunity that you have to seize,” Palmer said. “I just have to go in and be the best I can be. I can’t try to go in there and be Sam because I’m not Sam. I have to go in there and I have to be Nate. At the end of the day when the season is over, hopefully it’s good enough and I gave my best effort.”
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @WesHod