Back on Apr. 25, in a column meant to justify why the Packers needed to use the NFL Draft to find reinforcements in the trenches, Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel pointed a metaphorical finger at defensive lineman Ryan Pickett.
“Pickett, 33, and entering his 13th season, is nearing the end,” wrote McGinn. “He reported two weeks ago overweight and out of shape.”
Nothing in the Journal Sentinel flies under the radar as the most widely circulated newspaper in Wisconsin. And when something comes from the Hall of Fame honored beat writer, it becomes as close to gospel as you can get in Packers Nation.
That’s why it’s curious when a report published yesterday from Drew Smith of Fox 11 in Green Bay nearly flew in the face of McGinn’s earlier commentary.
According to Smith:
Usually, the Green Bay Packer defensive lineman treats the end of the season like school is out, but this offseason he decided to eat a little more healthily.
“It’s good eating,” said Pickett. “Normally in the offseason, when the season is over, I’m like, ‘Yes! I’m gonna go get some burgers, do this and that.’ This year, I took a different approach. I just want to be healthy, not just for this year, but the rest of my life. I’ve got a lot of folks I need to be around for.”
Pickett was encouraged by his wife, who encouraged him to pay more attention to what he ate in the offseason. As a result, Pickett says he came back to the Packers almost 10 pounds under his listed weight of 338 and almost 20 under his true playing weight.
Of course, this assumes you take Pickett at his word. It wouldn’t exactly be in his best interests to admit to being out of shape, but there’s no reason to believe he’s telling a flat-out lie either.
At 33 years old Pickett is obviously closer to the end of his career than the beginning. But even in his 12th season in the NFL in 2012, there didn’t appear to be any drop off in his play. He had 51 tackles last season, the most he’s racked up in a single season since 2006.
Pickett never has been a flashy player, the type that racks up a bunch of sacks. But you have to realize that’s not been part of his job description. Never has been and never will be.
Instead, Pickett is a two-gapping run stuffer. He’s the guy that keeps blockers off the linebackers, and he’s among the best in the business at doing what he does.
In fact, Pickett is the answer to the trivia question, “Who was the last player the Packers used the franchise tag on?” Raise your hand if you remember that. It happened back in 2010, and people tend to forget about it because it didn’t take long for Pickett to come to terms on a four-year, nearly $25 million contract extension with the team at the time.
If that’s not evidence of how highly regarded Pickett is for doing the dirty work in Green Bay, I don’t know what is.
Among Pickett’s best qualities are his dependability and his hustle, especially for a man of his size. He’s typically missed a handful of games per season, but he did play in and start all 16 games last season.
And it’s always been amazing to watch Pickett run after ball carriers sideline to sideline in spite of his size. Weighing over 340 lbs., he doesn’t always track them down, but he always gives an honest effort.
Because of these reasons, it’s probably not worth being worried that Pickett could possibly be out of shape. In the seven seasons he’s played for the Packers, he’s never shown any signs of being a conditioning concern by the time the season rolls around, at least to my knowledge.
Defensive line coach Mike Trgovac doesn’t appear to be showing any concern.
“Pickett, I think in the five years I’ve been here, I think this is the lightest he’s come in,” said Trgovac during an NFL Draft press conference.
McGinn certainly wasn’t unjustified about the Packers needing to add help on the defensive line, but it had as much to do with five defensive linemen having expiring contracts following the 2013 season than it did with Pickett specifically.
Pickett is one of those five players who’s entering the final year of his deal, but that should only add to his motivation if he hopes to play in the NFL beyond this season.
As a side note, it’s interesting to see how the Packers are approaching the offseason in response to the 579 yards of offense Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers put up in their playoff loss last season.
It helps the offseason program includes more conditioning drills than normal, as coach Mike McCarthy wants his team to be better equipped to play the athletic quarterbacks they will see early in their season, with the 49ers and the Redskins their first two games.
That should only help Pickett and the rest of the team stay in shape.