The Packers originally went into 2020 with the expectation veteran Christian Kirksey would replace Blake Martinez as the every-down “Mike” linebacker on defense.
However, a chest injury to Kirksey pushed those responsibilities to Barnes, a well-regarded team captain at UCLA whose draft stock was hurt by the cancellation of the school’s pro day due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite not having the benefit of a physical offseason program, Barnes put together a strong camp and earned a spot on the Packers’ roster after Martin was placed on injured reserve to start the regular season.
“He’s obviously a guy that has made plays when he’s gotten in in the game,” said Olivadotti last season. “He works extremely hard, communicates well, can play ahead of plays. He’s still a rookie in a lot of ways, and he is a mature rookie. … The even temperament he has, through good plays and bad plays, he has a pretty even pulse all the time.”
Barnes also had to scale a few mountains of his own on the injury front. In addition to spending most of November on the COVID-19 list, the 6-foot-2, 229-pound linebacker played through calf, shoulder and biceps injuries during his 13 regular-season appearances.
He also started the NFC Championship Game against Tampa Bay after breaking his thumb a week earlier against the Los Angeles Rams.
There stands to be competition for all the key inside linebacker posts this summer, but the one guaranteed place where the Packers will need to find a replacement is Kirksey’s spot in nickel.
Martin did some of that last year. Returning third-year veteran Ty Summers also has played there, though he spent most of last season as the backup to Barnes in the “Mike” role.