Ryan Pickett understands why the Green Bay Packers kept him off the field for two weeks. That didn't make the waiting any easier.
Pickett returned to practice Wednesday for the first time since he sustained a concussion in the Packers' on Dec. 11 victory over the Oakland Raiders - his second concussion this season.
Pickett had a less severe concussion during a practice in October, and having two concussions so close together meant he had to sit out longer. Pickett was itching to return right away, but acknowledged that the team did the right thing holding him out.
''You appreciate it, looking out for your long-term health, things like that,'' Pickett said. ''And I probably wasn't ready, the past couple weeks I just wasn't there. But I feel great.''
Pickett didn't remember taking a knee to the head from Raiders running back Michael Bush until he saw it again on film. He had headaches, felt foggy and had trouble concentrating while he sat out.
And while he appreciates the cognitive tests that a player must pass to return to the field, he didn't enjoy taking them, comparing the experience to taking the SATs.
''And I hate the SAT,'' Pickett said.
Pickett couldn't really do anything during his recovery, no extensive reading or watching movies. Even playing with his kids had to be done in moderation.
''Stuff like that is so hard when you have a concussion and you have to focus,'' Pickett said. ''They tell you to rest your mind. You don't even want to do reading. Just sit there. It's probably the worst. You can't do anything to rehab and get it better. Just sit there and wait.''
And while Pickett was waiting, the Packers' run defense was struggling.
Green Bay gave up 139 yards rushing at Kansas City on Dec. 18, enough to help the Chiefs hold onto the ball and set up an effective play-action passing game to hand the Packers their first loss.
Then came Sunday night's game against Chicago, where the Packers gave up 199 yards rushing - including 121 by third-string running back Kahlil Bell, who got the start because of injuries.
''Going back to the last game, we've talked about that in the grades, run defense isn't about talent,'' Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. ''It's about doing the little things right, and we didn't do a very good of it in our last game.''
Despite starting Bell and journeyman quarterback Josh McCown because of injuries, the Bears were able to stay in the game until Aaron Rodgers found his rhythm in the third quarter and the Packers pulled away.
''It's tough, because that's not our style of football the past couple weeks, giving up runs like that,'' Pickett said. ''It's been real tough to watch.''
Now the Packers already have clinched the No. 1 seed in the NFC, and McCarthy is weighing the possibility of resting veteran players in Sunday's season finale against Detroit.
Pickett hopes to play.
''I hope I can help,'' Pickett said. ''But this is good timing, my injury happened at a good time, I'm ready to go now and we can start fixing things up before we make this playoff run.''
Pickett's return won't automatically fix everything that has been wrong with the Packers' run defense the past few weeks, but it can't hurt.
Now in his 11th season, Pickett has been a reliable inside force on defense since leaving St. Louis to sign with Green Bay before the 2006 season - making him one of Packers general manager Ted Thompson's rare forays into free agency.
''In my opinion, just based on the grades and dealing with Ryan going on six years here, I feel this is probably the best football he's played,'' McCarthy said. ''He's physically in as good or better shape than he's been in his time here. He's always had exceptional foot quickness and balance, the ability to read and react. He definitely makes a difference in there.''
Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers praised Pickett's combination of skill and veteran savvy, but said the Packers' problems stopping the run Sunday aren't as simple as bringing back one player.
''Your run defense is like putting a glove on,'' Capers said. ''(It) has to all fit together. For me, it probably represents your team defense more than anything else because guys have to know where they fit and what their job is. Ryan normally does his job very well, in terms of protecting his linebackers, holding the point and not getting knocked off the ball - all those things good defensive linemen do.''
And while Pickett isn't as flashy a player as fellow defensive lineman B.J. Raji, his absence proved how valuable he is to the defense.
''The coaches know. The teammates know,'' Pickett said. ''The fans and the other people might not, but I'm OK as long as we're going good and winning.''
Follow Associated Press writer Chris Jenkins on Twitter at twitter.com/ByChrisJenkins.