Last season, Green Bay Packers linebacker Sam Barrington didn't come into his first NFL training camp focusing on who he was competing with for a roster spot. Concentrating instead on performing to his best ability, Barrington won a spot on the Packers' roster after the preseason and ultimately played in eight games.
A hamstring injury in the eighth game of the season sidelined him for the remainder of the year, but the 2013 seventh-round draft pick is 100 percent healthy heading into training camp, which opens this weekend. Keeping hold of that same mentality but with a year of experience under defensive coordinator Dom Capers' 3-4 defense, Barrington looks to make a greater impact heading into his second season.
Barrington made the transition from an outside linebacker at South Florida to an inside linebacker with the Packers last season. There was a learning process when it came to understanding how and where to line up players in the defense. Though some may see that as a tremendous amount of pressure, the 6'1, 235-pound athlete viewed it as a challenge to master and knows that experience will help him going into this season.
"You want to be the guy who's getting everybody lined up, so I take pride in that," Barrington said Monday.
"I'm definitely a lot -- probably about 20 times -- more comfortable than I was in the system because when you come in as a rookie, it's so much -- you just try to remember everything -- but now i'm understanding it versus why are we doing certain things in this position."
Playing special teams in 2013, Barrington stated one of his goals is to perform better than in his rookie season.
In continuing to progress in his understanding of the Packers' scheme, Barrington has observed fellow inside linebackers A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones, hoping to pick up on their habits and learn the play calls. New Packers defensive end/linebacker Julius Peppers stood out to Barrington as well, particularly Peppers' work ethic and his continually running full-speed as a 13-year veteran.
Another point of emphasis includes paying better attention to his body. Barrington suffering the hamstring injury against the Chicago Bears in Week 9 and was sidelined for the remainder of the season. He admitted heading into his second season that he's paying more attention to detail not just on the field, but on his physical conditioning as well.
"In college, they kind of just train you to work hard, and they don't necessarily train you to work smart," Barrington said. "You may be out there getting some real good conditioning in and getting some real good training in, but you gotta listen to your body when your body's trying to tell you something."
In the offseason, Barrington implemented acupuncture, hydrotherapy and pilates into his routine while focusing on different muscles. These types of exercises aren't foreign to the linebacker, who performed yoga in college.
Though there is a seemingly large amount of time between January when the season ends and late July when the next season's training camp begins for fans to cure their football fever, the break for players isn't as long.
Barrington did take some time off to rest this offseason, though. A film buff, he's had the opportunity to see the new Marvel Studios movies such as "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" and "X-Men: Days of Future Past," as well as the fourth Transformers film and the Eric Bana thriller, "Deliver Us from Evil." He also had the chance to spend valuable time with family and travel.
Though he rested mentally, he quickly realized after transitioning to the professional game that taking care of his body is now a job that needs continuous attention in order to have a longer, more prosperous career.
"I think guys -- being a rookie or a second-year guy -- I think when you realize that early on and not just that you're doing this for recreation," Barrington said. "When you realize that it's your job, you can acquire more success that way."
Packers general manager Ted Thompson didn't draft an inside linebacker this year, though the organization did sign undrafted free agents like Joe Thomas and Jake Doughty. Barrington, however, isn't looking at others to see where his future lies with the team.
Barrington admitted he wants to be just as good as Carolina Panthers standout Luke Kuechly and injured Buffalo Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso. He hopes his progression and greater understanding of the defense from last year will allow him to apply them on the field, make the necessary plays and put himself in a better situation to make an impact his sophomore year.
"I just want to be ready if my name were to be called," Barrington said, "and just continue to grow as a player so I can help the Green Bay Packers organization."
(Editor's note: please welcome Jake Kocorowski as a guest contributor to Acme Packing Company. He is a correspondent for Bucky's 5th Quarter, the SB Nation blog covering the Wisconsin Badgers, and the co-host of Kielbasa Kings Sports Extravaganza, B5Q's podcast.)
Stay tuned over the next few days - B5Q will be posting the full audio of the interview with Barrington, and we'll make sure to include a link here.