No surprise: Krys Barnes made 'noise' in Packers debut

Undrafted rookie linebacker has picked up quickly on playbook

LB Krys Barnes

GREEN BAY – The question swirled all summer about which inside linebacker would line up next to Christian Kirksey in the Packers' regular-season opener in Minnesota.

After months of conjecture, the job appeared to be down to Oren Burks or Ty Summers once rookie fifth-round pick Kamal Martin was placed on injured reserve last week.

Of course, that all changed when Green Bay promoted Krys Barnes from its practice squad the day before Sunday's game at U.S. Bank Stadium – and then proceeded to make the former UCLA standout the first undrafted rookie linebacker to start Week 1 for the Packers since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970.

And it didn't take long to figure out why. Barnes needed only 15 snaps in the base defense to record six tackles, including two for a loss in the third quarter that stymied Vikings' drives.

The second of which came on an attempted screen pass to Dalvin Cook. Minnesota had numbers on the play with no other Packers in the area, but Barnes managed his space well to stay unblocked and make the open-field tackle for a 2-yard loss.

"I thought Krys did an amazing job. I thought he had a hell of a game," Kirksey said. "In the 15 plays that he was in, he made noise. He did a lot of damage – especially on that screen play that they tried to do against us. He shut it down right away."

Barnes' ability to stay off blocks was apparent not only on his tackles for loss but also a few under-the-radar plays during a suffocating second quarter for the defense.

The 6-foot-2, 229-pound linebacker flushed Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins from the pocket on one play and also bulled through a block from fullback C.J. Ham to allow Za'Darius Smith and Kirksey to halt Cook for a small gain.

When Barnes was asked to cover Cook in space on another play, the rookie fulfilled the assignment to Head Coach Matt LaFleur's liking.

"I think it's just his instincts," LaFleur said. "He was able to trigger on a couple things and sniffed (them) out. Certainly showed toughness. There was a nice collision when they were backed up (by the goal line) on the first play.

"Obviously, everybody saw the screen he sniffed out, and then there was another play where Minnesota was trying to cut him down and leaked the halfback to the flat, and he did a nice job with the cut and covering the halfback."

Barnes was one of 15 undrafted rookies the Packers signed back in April but he didn't come to Green Bay lacking credentials. A former high school teammate of Packers' first-round pick Jordan Love, Barnes was a highly touted, four-star recruit when he committed to play at UCLA in 2016.

A productive three-year starter for the Bruins, Barnes recorded 212 tackles (21 for a loss), five sacks and two interceptions in 43 games. Still, he was relatively unheralded in the pre-draft process.

Barnes aimed to make a run at a spot on Green Bay’s 53-man roster despite the absence of a physical offseason program due to the COVID-19 pandemic and made a good account of himself during an abbreviated training camp.

The rookie linebacker made a positive first impression on inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti, who praised Barnes for his ability to already play four different positions in the defense.

"Krys is a really serious guy that takes football very serious and I think takes life very serious," said Olivadotti recently. "He is a guy that his questions are not typical rookie questions. They're not the basic questions that sometimes get asked. He is a very thoughtful guy. He really has done a nice job. We've asked him to do a lot.

"When he's on the practice field … there's going to be a Packer jersey where a Packer jersey is supposed to be."

With NFL teams not having any film of each other's rookie classes without a preseason, the Packers opted to not keep any undrafted rookies on their initial 53 during cut-down weekend. After starting the week on the practice squad, Barnes received the late call-up to the 53 last Saturday en route to having quite the memorable NFL debut against the Vikings.

By being on the active roster against Minnesota, Barnes extended the Packers' streak of having at least one undrafted rookie on their Week 1 53-man roster to 16 years.

"You know a ballplayer when you see him," Kirksey said. "He (made) plays throughout camp. There wasn't a doubt in my mind that he was going to do what he did coming into the Minnesota game. I'm just excited that he had his first game and his rookie debut, and it was good."

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