Nate Palmer kept telling himself it could have been worse.
Last summer, the Green Bay Packers' second-year linebacker tore his medial collateral ligament in the preseason finale. When the Packers cut their roster to 53, they placed Palmer on season-ending injured reserve.
Palmer missed most of his junior year at Simeon Career Academy (Ill.) High School because of a broken ankle, but that was nothing compared to this. Football was his livelihood now and he wasn't able to do his job.
The 6-foot-2, 248-pounder admittedly "struggled" with that reality once the regular season started. Then, he stepped back and reconsidered his position. While he wasn't going to play this year, his knee would heal and Palmer would have another chance.
His 2013 draft classmate, Johnathan Franklin, didn't have that opportunity. The former UCLA running back's career ended 11 games into his rookie season because of a neck injury.
"I thought of my draft class," Palmer said. "J-Frank, he didn't know it was going to be his last snap, so I'm forever grateful. I give all thanks to God because it could have been a lot worse than it was. I battled back, got healthy and pushed myself to the breaking point this offseason.
"I knew I missed the whole year, so I knew I had to go above and beyond to even get back to where I was at coming off a seasonlong injury."
Palmer has since returned to the Packers and is playing a new position — inside linebacker. The outside-to-inside transition is nothing new in Green Bay. Clay Matthews made the move midway through last season, joining the likes of Brad Jones, Jamari Lattimore, Robert Francois and Carl Bradford.
Palmer last played inside during his three years at Illinois where he played for Packers special teams coach Ron Zook. He transferred to Illinois State in 2011 and recorded 17 sacks in two seasons as a 4-3 defensive end.
A rash of injuries ahead of him saw Palmer play in eight games with two starts as a rookie, but he went without a sack on 196 defensive snaps as end edge rusher. The Packers teased a switch with Bradford and Palmer in the final week of the preseason.
"It was something that happened in practice and they were like, 'Have you ever played inside?' I was like, 'Yeah, early in college,' " Palmer said. "It was in a joking matter and then in the last week it was like, 'Whoa, snap.' There were some subtle hints."
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers and linebackers coach Winston Moss told him to stay "on the lookout" for a switch. Although the coaches didn't definitively inform Palmer of the permanent move until the offseason program, that warning braced him for a possible change.
Palmer spent a lot of his down time studying. He knew the defense and scheme, but asked questions of A.J. Hawk, Jones, Lattimore and even 2013 classmate Sam Barrington about the nuances of playing inside. Once the season ended, Palmer returned home and trained at Chicago-based EFT Sports Performance.
He trained five days a week and sometimes Saturdays with a rotating group of NFL players, including teammates Bruce Gaston and Kyle Sebetic. Atlanta tight end Tony Moeaki, defensive end Adrian Clayborn and New England linebacker Darius Fleming also trained there.
Palmer balanced exercises geared toward injury prevention and flexibility with speed and core workouts. Three times a week, he'd work with trainers on drills specific to the linebacker position. The sessions were usually around three hours long depending on how much joking went on.
"A lot of my teammates here joke about no days off, I'm literally like no days off," Palmer said. "They're like, you're going to burn yourself out. I'm like, I'm young right now. I can do it. If I play six, seven years, then I'll tone it down. This is my third year. I'm going to go (full speed) because that's all I know. Five, six days and I'll sleep later."
Palmer agrees this is an important time for him. The pace of the offseason program is rapid, but it allows him to be a part of all the installations rather than being thrown into the fire at the position like he was in the preseason.
Already with a good understanding of the scheme, this offseason has been about learning which techniques and coverages carry over from the outside to the inside. That requires a lot of listening. The goal is to ask questions now, so Palmer won't have to once training camp is here.
"Nate is a great athlete, in my opinion, so I don't think it was a tough transition for him," Barrington said. "I think once he learns some of the inside techniques and just some of the plays and how we do things from the inside perspective; I think it was easy for him. He's doing a great job thus far."
The Packers have made significant changes at inside linebacker. The top three players on last year's opening depth chart are gone. Hawk and Jones were released, and the Packers showed little interest in retaining Lattimore in free agency.
Behind Matthews and Barrington, Palmer will be competing for a role with fourth-round draft pick Jake Ryan, Bradford, and undrafted free agents Joe Thomas, Tavarus Dantzler and Josh Francis. Palmer is the only one of the five who's played in a regular-season game.
Palmer is fully aware of the Packers' track record with moving linebackers inside and isn't backing down from the challenge. Everything he's done since August has been about putting himself in a position to earn a spot back on the 53-man roster.
Franklin didn't have a second chance after his neck injury, but Palmer does. Now, he plans to make the most of it.
"I played it before," Palmer said. "It's just knocking off the dust. That's pretty much what I'm trying to do is get all the kinks and stuff out so that when I come back for OTAs I can hit the ground with my feet running."
— email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.