Packers middle linebacker and soul of the defense Nick Barnett is done for the season after suffering a torn ACL in the third quarter of the Packers 28-27 loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. Barnett has been the team’s leading tackler in four out of the last five seasons.
It is reported that he should be ready for training camp next year following six to eight months of rehabilitation and provided there are no complications from his surgery.
Despite having Barnett in the lineup, the Packers have struggled mightily against the runnnig game this year, rankings 28th in yards allowed per game and 30th in yards allowed per carry. In losing their best linebacker, the struggles have just compounded on each other.
Someone has to step up. According to head coach Mike McCarthy, second-year linebacker Desmond Bishop could be inserted directly into the middle of the defense, as he was on Sunday. Bishop came up with a key strip of Adrian Peterson on a fourth-down play late in the game, but also missed a tackle on Chester Taylor‘s 47-yard touchdown catch and blitzed the wrong gap on Peterson’s game-winning 29-yard touchdown run. A special teams player in his rookie year, Bishop made the roster based on improvement this year and is attempting to make the most of his playing time. McCarthy said the decision could be made soon.
Also in play are linebackers A.J. Hawk, Brady Poppinga, and Brandon Chillar. Hawk could be moved to the middle linebacker where he played in college and insert Chillar into the weakside position. Chillar was scratched from Sunday’s game with a shoulder injury, however. Hawk, the No. 5 pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, has played solidly, but not up to the high expectations that come with being a top-five overall pick. He has had Barnett’s shadow to hide in, but now in Barnett’s absence he will have to shine.
I am not sold on Bishop completely, so I would advocate the second scenario of moving Hawk to the middle and putting Chillar on the weakside for the coming game against the Chicago Bears. Based on how this linebacking corps works on Sunday, I would recommend McCarthy inserting Bishop into the game in certain scenarios to give him some time and figure out which linebacking corps to use use in the stretch run.
Barnett will be missed. Is it time to start looking towards next year?