When Charles Woodson left Green Bay after the 2012 season, it left the Packers with a roster largely devoid of strong personalities on defense. That void was eventually filled by Mike Daniels, who brought an old-school attitude to a unit that badly needed a new identity.
But Daniels can't be the only vocal defensive leader if the Packers expect to return to form on that side of the ball. Accordingly, inside linebacker Sam Barrington has decided to step into a leadership role and take ownership of the defense.
"When you take out all the pleasing everybody's emotions, I'm the veteran inside linebacker," Barrington told Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "It's my defense. What's mine right now is mine to lose. So I approach it with a serious mentality."
Barrington is entering his third season with Green Bay. As a rookie, he played sparingly, eventually landing on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. However, Barrington's role increased in 2014 as incumbents A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones struggled. By the end of the season, Barrington had entrenched himself as the Packers' top full-time inside linebacker.
And Barrington understands the importance of not just holding onto the job, but making it his job.
"Anything you have ownership of you tend to do anything to protect it, and you want to watch it grow," said Barrington. "So that's my mentality. It's a position I'm looking to protect. Not violently, not maliciously, but I'll protect it with my production. I want to see this defense take new heights and finally have an identity."
Barrington could follow the path blazed by former Green Bay linebacker Desmond Bishop. Like Bishop, Barrington was a late-round pick that wasn't guaranteed a roster spot. Both battled their way onto the roster with strong training camps and became fixtures on special teams.
Though it took several years, Bishop's career took a turn towards stardom in 2010 when Nick Barnett sustained a season-ending wrist injury. Bishop did more than just adequately replace Barnett, he provided improved play in the middle of the defense. Despite starting only 12 games, he finished second on the team in total tackles and fourth in sacks. He also played a played a key role on Clay Matthews' strip of Rashard Mendenhall in Super Bowl XLV, recovering the loose ball and protecting the Packers' tenuous 4-point lead.
Barrington doesn't have to reach Bishop's heights to shore up inside linebacker for Green Bay, but he does need to continue to develop into a reliable presence in the middle of the defense. He possesses the physical tools (and the same full-throttle approach) to become Bishop's spiritual successor, and he's ready for the responsibility.