With the season-ending loss of starting inside linebacker Sam Barrington, Packer fans are apprehensive about a defensive middle that has already been labelled as soft.  While Pro-Bowler Clay Matthews certainly provides much needed help in the middle, all eyes now fall onto third year linebacker Nate Palmer who looks to be the next man up, at least for the time being.

The team knew what they had in Barrington.  He was a reliable run-stopper who had some liabilities in coverage. While Barrington is young (claiming a starting spot toward the end of the 2014 season over AJ Hawk and Brad Jones), he had not yet shone himself to be a game-changing player.  He was a moderate upgrade at perhaps the team’s biggest area of weakness.

Now Palmer, a 6th round pick out of Illinois State in 2013 and a relatively unknown commodity, is thrust into deep waters for a player who was transitioned from college defensive end to professional inside linebacker, and who missed the entirety of the 2014 season on injured reserve.  While it remains to be seen how effective Palmer will be, we do have a limited sample size of his play against the Chicago Bears.  Will the drop-off from Barrington to Palmer be significant?  Can Palmer at least fill-in as a serviceable middle linebacker?  The tape tells the tale of a player with several strengths and weaknesses.


When Palmer was mostly unblocked, he had good instincts and made good lines to the ball.  He also stepped up and made solid tackles.

While Palmer certainly doesn’t have the quickness or range of a high-caliber inside linebacker, he’s not terrible in finding his way to the ball carrier and making a tackle.

With that being said, Palmer’s best strength appears to be in pass coverage.  He spent a good part of the afternoon covering Matt Forte out of the backfield, and was fairly good in keeping him in check as a receiver.  On one play in the red zone, Palmer lined up on Forte out wide and made a TD saving coverage tackle that one is hard-pressed to see Barrington making.


The most noticeable weakness in Palmer’s game is an inability to get off blocks.  Whether it’s getting pushed down field on run plays or running full steam into a brick wall when blitzing, Palmer doesn’t appear to have much in the way of strength or block-shedding moves.  On several run plays, Palmer was taken out of the play entirely by a single blocker, being pushed downfield at will.

It didn’t look like Palmer blitzed very often, but when he did, it was mostly the same story there.

The Verdict

There’s a lot of room for improvement in Palmer’s game.  There’s little reason to assume that he’s going to be a boon to the Packers’ defense, but he doesn’t appear to be a big decline from Barrington either.  While that says more about the lack of talent at the position than anything else, it should at least be the case that the sky-high expectations for this team are not significantly changed with the loss of Barrington.

While Palmer doesn’t provide the thumper-type play in the middle that Barrington does, he is certainly better than Barrington in coverage, and I would not have been surprised to see Palmer play a lot of 3rd and longs in Barrington’s place had he remained healthy all season.

Perhaps rookie Jake Ryan will warrant more playing time as he eases into the professional game and Capers’ defense.  Perhaps he will eventually overtake Palmer on the depth chart.  But as it stands now, Palmer appears to at least provide serviceable play at the position.  With a high-powered offense, it’s not imperative that this defense be great, but just good enough.  Palmer may just have the stuff to provide toward that end.



Taylor O\'Neill is a Packer fan born and raised in Oshkosh, WI. He currently lives in Florida and is pursuing his PhD. Taylor is a writer with PackersTalk.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @TaylorONeill87 for more Packer news.