Can Barrington, Ryan Change Green Bay Packers’ ILB Fortunes?

Packers Linebacker Sam Barrington

The Green Bay Packers have done a good job addressing areas of need in recent years. When the run game ranked near the bottom of the league in 2011 and 2012, the Packers drafted Eddie Lacy to rejuvenate the backfield.

In 2013, Green Bay was the only team to not record an interception from the safety position. The Packers addressed that by selecting Ha Ha Clinton-Dix with their first round pick, and he now appears to be a long-term fixture at safety.

This offseason, the Packers’ biggest need was the inside linebacker position. Green Bay parted ways with veterans A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones, leaving the team with an extremely young corps of inside linebackers.

When the season begins, the likely starters at inside linebacker will be Sam Barrington and Clay Matthews. Matthews will have had more time to learn the nuances of playing inside after being forced into that role last year, but the team would still prefer if he can stay outside, where he is one of the best in the league. Either way, Matthews will switch between playing inside and outside linebacker, especially at the beginning of the season.

Barrington will probably begin the season as the Packers’ fixture at inside linebacker. In 2014, he became the starter in Week 13 and held that spot through the end of the season. As the 2015 season approaches, Barrington appears ready for a more prominent role on the Green Bay defense.

After showing promise in his limited role last year, Barrington has stated that he now views himself as a leader on the team, despite being in just his third year. The former seventh-round pick begins training camp at the top of the depth chart, and will look to give some security at inside linebacker that was nonexistent last year.

The Packers would love if another linebacker steps up and performs well enough to allow Matthews to move back to the outside. The most likely to do so would be rookie Jake Ryan, who the Packers selected in the fourth round of the draft.

Ryan is a versatile player with above average speed who can play both inside and outside. Like most rookies, he will need polishing to become a more complete player, but he has the athletic ability and desire for success to develop into a playmaker for Green Bay.

Ryan is also better in coverage than the inside linebackers the Packers have had in the past, which could allow him to become a three-down linebacker. Ryan will need time to learn behind Barrington and Matthews, so it is unlikely that he finds himself an opening day starter. But midway through the year it is possible that Ryan could be next to Barrington on the inside with Matthews back at his natural position.

Second year players Carl Bradford and Joe Thomas will both also compete for time at the position, though they face a more uphill battle. Bradford had a quiet preseason last year, and was inactive for every regular season game. Thomas suffered an injury that prevented him from having any impact either. While Ryan and Barrington seem to be ahead of Bradford and Thomas on the depth chart for the time being, training camp could see sleepers emerge and rise up the depth chart.

Matthews and Barrington are the favorites to man the inside linebacker position when the season begins. But the Packers did not use a draft pick on Ryan just to stash him low on the depth chart forever. Barrington will have the chance to assert himself as a leader for the defense, and Ryan will get the opportunity to prove he can anchor the linebacker corps as well.

It may take time to develop, but the Packers have the pieces to once again successfully address their biggest area of need. By the end of the season, Matthews could go back to a full-time outside linebacker while Barrington and Ryan hold down the middle.


Sean Blashe is a Packers fan who grew up in Bears territory and is currently a journalism and history major at Marquette University. Sean is a writer with and you can follow him on twitter at @SeanBlashe .



5 thoughts on “Can Barrington, Ryan Change Green Bay Packers’ ILB Fortunes?

  1. The longer Matthews needs to be an ILB,whether listed as one or not, may not bode as well as some may attempt to profess.The ‘rover’ ideology is based on having found or developed two players,one at ILB and another at OLB,too ensure his ‘roving about’ isn’t mooted by less than average play by those who allow that thinking from either position and omitting anything DL related for the purpose I’m presenting.

    The equation now is that Peppers and either Neal/Perry are adequate to put Matthews at ILB,but unless both Neal and Perry can cover for any loss of Peppers(higher dependence),whether age or injury,and added in the high risk of either Neal and the more likely Perry to suffer injury,another(Hubbard,Eliot ??) must make a strong out of the gate run to erase any such worry of loss of any of the three mentioned.

    The same is almost exactly true for the ILB position if Matthews by virtue of a scenario as mentioned were to befall the OLB,Matthews than becomes a huge loss at ILB unless another of those mentioned in the article,Bradford,Thomas,Ryan can erase any worry if Matthews needing to move back to full time OLB and making again a hole at ILB and limiting the ‘rover’ schematic thinking for Matthews that is high on the minds of coaches and fans alike as of today.

    The ILB and OLB both need to see a player this camp rise up to ensure that what is planned for Matthews is actually doable for the long season,otherwise,IMO,we’ll likely see a drop off of effectiveness of Matthews regardless of where he plays.

  2. A big misconception exists among Packer fans. That Matthews switched to be and ILB. That is simply not the case… Matthews began moving around a lot playing far more OLB snaps than ILB snaps after the change was initiated. Matthews really only played 28% of his total snaps after wk 9 at ILB. Barely over 1 out of 4 at ILB, yet most seem to talk as if he was an ILB.
    There can be no doubt that the change in philosophy helped the Packers D immensely, especially in run D. But other changes were made that isn’t discussed that also made it better. First getting Perry on the field more helped the run D. Perry generally took Matthews ROLB spot when Matthews moved around and he used his physicality and assignment sure play against the run was actually better than Matthews had done at ROLB. The other change was Burnett moving into the box a lot more than he had earlier in the year.
    Matthews really only played ILB in nickel situations, which the Packers play about 2/3 of the defensive snaps. So even when he played ILB, even if it was all in nickel (by far the majority of his snaps were) it was less then 1/2 of the nickel snaps.
    Now Matthews might start at ILB, but that is really only going to be if the Packers are in nickel to start the game. In base D, assuming they start the game in base 34 D, it highly likely that Barrington and either Ryan or Bradford are the ILB.
    I expect Matthews to continue to move around, and actually expect his % of snaps at ILB to increase slightly (from the 28% mentioned to approximately 35%) to better take advantage of Matthews many and varied abilities. Simply put Matthews might be easily the best all around LB in the NFL. He can set the edge on run downs, tho this isn’t really a strength. He is an outstanding pass rusher as we’ve seen for awhile now. His coverage ability (honed by playing Safety in HS and his early college career) is very good and is one of the primary reasons he was and will continue IMO to be used virtually all his ILB snaps in nickel.
    The Packers do need the Peppers, Perry, Neal triumvirate to provide good pass rush when Matthews is in another position or in coverage. Matthews pass rush also get better by moving around. At ROLB he only plays against the best pass blockers in the NFL, the LT. Moving him around gets him better matchups either against RT or even OG. It also means when he rushes at ROLB, the LT is more beatable for Matthews after having a dose of Perry’s physical style of play. So Matthews speed and explosiveness become enhanced by virtue of not seeing it every down.
    The run D became better for a variety of reasons, one of which was Matthews at ILB on some of those run downs. But getting Perry on the field helped a lot, as did using Burnett in the box much more. Expect those to continue more this year too, along w/ Matthews playing some ILB.
    But is wrong IMO to even remotely think Matthews is going to be an ILB. His primary position is still going to be OLB.

  3. No matter where Matthews plays he is much better when moved around like a chess piece. I don’t think you have to look any further than his production over the first 8 weeks and the 8 weeks following the bye. His tackles almost doubled though they would playing ILB. His sacks quadrupled one he was moved inside. Perry’s strong suit in playing the run. He still seems to have one pass rush move, a bull rush, but he is pretty damn good against the run. I’m a huge Jake Ryan fan. I think they’ll be able to really mix up where Clay plays because you can plug Ryan in either inside or outside.

    One other player that is left out of the conversation when speaking about the Packers LB’s, Sean Richardson. I don’t think the Packers gave him $2.55 million to play just ST. Eric Kendricks or Shaq Thompson, both LB taken in this draft are about he same size as Richardson and Packers fans were screaming for Kendricks. Obviously in a 3-4 defense the LB are generally bigger but I think we see some Packages with Richardson at LB this year, especially on passing downs.

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