Headlines telling of car accidents and failed physicals hardly tell the story of Ryan Pickett. He is so much more than isolated incidents might portray him - even if those incidents seem to grab more attention than the duties of his regular job.
As a defensive tackle for the Packers, Pickett plays a position only front and center by its location on a football field. Even when he does well, his contributions can be lost by the nature of his job. So while teammates such as Aaron Kampman, Nick Barnett, A.J. Hawk, Al Harris, and Charles Woodson receive much of the credit for the success of the Packers’ defense, Pickett is the one who makes them all better. He is the quiet voice of a unit that is loudly being talked about as potentially championship-caliber.
"(He leads) by example," said Packers’ defensive tackles coach Robert Nunn. "He’s not a big vocal guy."
Pickett’s defensive linemate Cullen Jenkins knows the value of a good interior lineman. He plays both inside and outside positions. Ascending to starting defensive end near the end of the 2006 season, he has become a top performer playing alongside Pickett and looks up to him.
"He’s a big leader for us," said Jenkins. "He’s been around the game and done it for a while now. You know he’s going to be consistent. He’s a big-effort guy."
Pickett, 28, spent the first five years of his NFL career with the St. Louis Rams. He signed with the Packers as an unrestricted free agent on March 17, 2006, for a reported $14 million over four years. At the time, he also considered playing for the Buffalo Bills, but one visit to Green Bay sold him.
“It was the whole atmosphere around here. It’s great,” said Pickett. “And I like the coaches here, too. Meeting with coach (Mike) McCarthy and coach (Bob) Sanders and everybody, I wanted to go where I felt I could fit in and help the team. I found the perfect city. It felt like home. That’s why I chose it.”
What the Bills lost, the Packers gained almost immediately. Pickett not only anchored the Packers’ defense in the middle as the most consistent interior lineman, but he also showed play-making ability - even if his numbers may not have suggested as much.
“There’s a lot more to it. I wish I didn’t always stay in the middle,” said Pickett with a smile. “Based on what they call, we just don’t clog up the middle. We have to play sideline to sideline and make plays. We’ve got to get there. It ain’t just like we sit there and pick up blocks all day. We need to make plays whether it’s inside or outside.”
Pickett did not finish with a sack, a forced fumble, or an interception in 2006, but he did record 92 tackles (second best among defensive lineman on the team) and seven passes defended (best among defensive lineman on the team) in 16 starts. His play was impressive considering he was playing a new role on a new defense.
“He had an outstanding year. And it was a lot different than what he’s ever done,” said Nunn. “He’s been more of a guy that shoots gaps and things like that, and we’re not that way. We stack the line of scrimmage and play off that.”
Said Pickett: “There’s not much to dislike about this defense. I like this style of defense. I liked it when I watched Miami (Dolphins) play. To play on it, it’s different than what I’m used to, but I like it.”
With the Rams, Pickett was put into more one-on-one situations. It showed in his numbers. He became the Rams’ regular starter in 2002 and enjoyed his best year in 2005 before hitting free agency. That last year in St. Louis he posted 115 tackles and two sacks.
While Pickett became a stalwart on the Rams’ defense, he also learned what it was like to be a part of a winning NFL team. He played in six post-season contests, including Super Bowl XXXVI, a 20-17 loss to the New England Patriots.
“I was just a rookie, so I just thought, ‘I’m here. It’s going to be easy to get here…,’” said Pickett. “You can kind of take it for granted getting there so early and thinking it’s going to be easy to get back there.”
Pickett never did get back to the Super Bowl but hopes he does with the Packers. He at least sees some encouraging signs in Green Bay that he saw in St. Louis. Maybe even a few more.
“We had great team chemistry … but we didn’t have nearly as much talent as we have here on defense,” he said. “But the camaraderie in the locker room there is similar to what we have here this year. We were a close team and we all trusted in one another.”
Editor's note: To read more about Pickett in the November issue of Packer Report magazine, click here for more information, or to subscribe to Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com