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Raji, Pickett Move Pays Off For Packers

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Raji, Pickett Move Pays Off For Packers

DALLAS – Considering the Packers made it as far is the Super Bowl, it's pretty fair to say that whole switch to move B.J. Raji to nose tackle and Ryan Pickett to end before the season turned out fairly well.

As it turns out, the Packers probably would have done it a year earlier had it not been for several circumstances.

"What we thought about when we drafted B.J., he was really the ideal fit for nose," said defensive line coach Mike Trgovac. "And we had a player that was very good at that in Ryan Pickett. So we didn't want to disrupt that as much. And of course with B.J. holding out and then missing all that time with injuries."

Last year the starting lineup was Pickett at nose with Cullen Jenkins and Johnny Jolly at the ends. With Jolly out of the picture this season due to suspension, the Packers needed to figure out how to best utilize their remaining personnel.

"It's basically the decision we came up with, they wanted to have us both on the field at the same time," said Pickett. "I felt that it was best if I moved to end because I felt that I could play end as well. And B.J. is more built to be inside at nose guard. So we just decided that I'd move out."

Pickett is still technically the backup nose tackle, although he says he hasn't played a single snap at the position all season long. And he doesn't mind, because he's got a new position to worry about.

The coaching staff tries not to allow Pickett to get too rusty, however, especially with a Super Bowl on the line this week.

"He takes reps at practice as the backup nose tackle," said Trgovac. "He practiced some yesterday. We were in pads yesterday, and he did a good job.

"We're very fortunate that we have two very good nose tackles, Pick went in there yesterday in practice and looked very good doing it. We always give him reps at nose during the week just to keep his mind fresh on that."

One of the biggest reasons the team hasn't need Pickett at the nose is because of the durability of Raji, which has bordered on amazing.

Due to the suspension to Jolly, season-ending injuries to Mike Neal and Justin Harrell, and other comparatively minor injuries to Pickett and Jenkins, Raji's snaps have increased this season. And he's continued to play at a high level despite the high amount of snaps for a person of his size.

So how does he do it?

"Just doing the little things, having a trainer stretch me out after practice," said Raji. "Lifting heavy, real heavy once a week to kind of keep my body intact and get ready for a crucial game. Just trying to stay in the best shape I possibly can."

Trgovac also says that the fact Raji is young helps a lot. And he's conscious of the amount of snaps Raji is given both in practice and during games in an attempt to keep him fresh.

Apart from the base, 3-4 defense that utilizes three defensive lineman, Raji's yeoman duties have also extended to the Packers' nickel package that uses only two down linemen, where he plays often.

Joining him in nickel situations is Pickett, which was a stark departure from a year ago.

"I've been playing a lot more nickel this year than I have any other years," said Pickett. "I think it's going good. I think it's been working out pretty good. Last year I don't think I had any snaps in nickel. This year I had a lot, so I like it."

To go from zero snaps in the nickel in 2009 to playing a much larger role in 2010 was a radical change for the Packers defensive line. According to Trgovac, the reasoning was twofold.

"Number one, a little bit of injuries had a play in that," said Trgovac. "We lost Mike Neal who, he was a big part of our nickel plans.

"And then we end up playing so much nickel all the time, and we play it on some run downs. So you like that size and that girth that's in there when you're playing that nickel with Pickett and B.J. in there."

The Packers' run defense rankings have dipped from no. 2 against the run last season all the way to no. 18 this year. But the pass defense and overall defense are improved in 2010 – both ranked no. 5 in the NFL – in no small part due to the pass rush from Raji.

The Packers can only hope their studs along the defensive line continue to produce for one more game.

"I've been comfortable at the nose tackle position," said Raji. "We've got a great defense so far, and hopefully we can continue it on Sunday."

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (14) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

PackersThad's picture

Brian, keep the great articles coming!! Corey's pictures are amazing as well! CheeseheadTV is doing a fabulous job!!

GO! PACK! GO!

Ken at UWM's picture

Wow! Pickett hasn't played a single snap at the nose? Great stuff.

Long before Raji was dancing in the end zone and lining up as a FB, his 63 or 67 snap outing against Minnesota went largely unnoticed. For a DT, that's the equivalent of pitching 11 innings against 9 Craig Counsells.

PackersThad's picture

WHOA! Craig Counsell! That's taking it back (not really)! I love that guy!!

Ken at UWM's picture

Haha who doesn't? Every at-bat is 8-10 pitches. Hate to bring baseball up but who wouldn't like to think about the summer sun a little bit?

foundinidaho's picture

Nice stuff you're producing, Brian. Making the most of that press credential - well done.

jdondlinger's picture

D-Line is going to be sick with depth next season when Neal, Jolly and Harrell come back healthy. Even if we lose Jenkins to free agency, we are stacked on the line. Really think Neal could be an impact guy like Jenkins.

Norman's picture

Not sure I've ever seen "Harrell" and "healthy" in the same sentence before, without the word "not" in there somewhere!

Seriously though, it would be great to get anything out of him next year. I'm not sure Jolly ever plays another down as a Packer again though. I'd keep Jenkins (but not break the bank to do it), then have a rotation with Neal, Raji, Pickett (who's getting up there in years), Jenkins, and throw in CJ Wilson, Jarius Wynn and Harrell if he can make the team. Basically the same as this year but with Neal in the mix. I agree Neil is going to be something special, assuming he can stay healthy.

WoodyG's picture

Think 'franchise tag' & Jenkins .... Should know before March 4th .....

hyperRevue's picture

I'd love for them to keep Jenkins, but I sort of doubt it'll happen. Though he and Jones are really the only impact FAs this off-season.

WoodyG's picture

BJ looks to have the stamina & talent to be a perennial pro-bowler if it weren't for "the boy named Suh" playing in the Motor City ......

BrianD's picture

Did you really have to use yeoman for the second consecutive article to describe Busari Jr.?

Brian Carriveau's picture

Are you kidding me? Seriously, are you kidding me?

davyjones's picture

Perhaps, Brian, you should send your articles to BrianD for some editing. He could get out his thesaurus and suggest an alternative--herculean, perhaps.

Really, you guys have produced such outstanding stuff all year and this week has been no exception. You and your efforts are greatly, really greatly, appreciated by so many...even if there are those that insist on picking nits occasionally.

PackersThad's picture

Brian, you should crack open a cold one on his head.

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