Packers’ Pickett is ultimate team player
Defensive lineman leads on field, at home and in a ministry
~By Lori Nickel, Journal-Sentinel
~Green Bay – How many 32-year-old, 340-pound defensive linemen have their best season in their 11th year?
And then how many of them spend their off-days teaching third-grade math at the kitchen table?
Ryan Pickett feels a little more comfortable locking horns with centers and guards, but he enjoys both roles proudly. He leads the Green Bay Packers defensive linemen in tackles, but perhaps what’s so remarkable is not that coach Mike McCarthy proclaimed that Pickett is having his finest year as a Packer.
It’s that Pickett finds a way to balance practice, film study, games and travel with his huge – and growing – family.
Meet the Picketts.
Abigail, 6, is a little actress. She does not take after her quiet and reserved father. She’s more like her mom. “She will talk all day,” Pickett said.
Ryan Jr., 4, isn’t hooked on “Blues Clues” or “Sesame Street” – but he watches his superhero, No. 79, every day.
“We have to take the remote from him. He watches the Super Bowl over and over,” Pickett said. “He will watch it 100 times. I can’t take it anymore. I’m like, ‘Listen, we got to watch something else.’ ”
Lydia, 3, is an animal lover. She holds onto the dog and does not let it go. Turn your head for a second while she’s in the backyard and she’ll come back with night crawlers wiggling in her little hands.
Caleb is 6 months old and the spitting image of Pickett, whose apple cheeks and easy smile can’t be contained under a football helmet.
Esther, 7, is like a little mom to all of them.
“She tries to take care of all of them,” Pickett said. “She tries to feed them, get them dressed – she really looks after her other siblings.”
That’s five kids under the age of 7, and Pickett’s wife, Jennifer, just found out they’re expecting again, he thinks sometime in September.
Pickett loves to come home to a doorway packed with kids begging him to play. He takes the three oldest with him when he goes golfing in the San Diego area, where he makes his off-season home (not far from quarterback Aaron Rodgers). They all clamor for the steering wheel. “It’s an. . . adventure,” Pickett said.
And although he hates it, he’s also the disciplinarian.
“It’s hard, but I have to,” Pickett said. “We make sure they listen the first time you say something. You have to because we have so many! To have the house out of control, it wouldn’t be good.”
But when Jennifer decided to home-school all of the kids in Green Bay, it also meant a commitment from her husband; she couldn’t do this alone.
“On my off-days, I have to teach,” Pickett said.
So Pickett shows the little ones how to hold a pencil and the middle ones how to spell and his oldest where to put the decimal point.
“Right now my oldest is in second grade, but she’s doing third-grade math – and I’m like, this is what third-graders do in math?” Pickett said. “Oh my goodness, I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be able to help her.”
Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Ryan Pickett carries his son Ryan Jr. after the Packers’ win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV last year. Ryan Jr., 4, “watches the Super Bowl over and over,” Pickett said. “He will watch it 100 times. I can’t take it anymore.” Photo by Mark Hoffman
It would be understandable if Pickett lost his focus sometimes, but his family appears to give him a balance.
The lockout after Super Bowl XLV gave him a break he really needed, he said, to get away. So he spent time with his family. He also got healthy and rested and worked with a personal trainer – something he doesn’t do normally.
When he came back to Green Bay and fully participated in training camp – rare for a veteran, rarer for a veteran lineman – that greatly impressed his position coach, Mike Trgovac.
“I’ve seen so many guys eat themselves out of this league,” Trgovac said.
“I’ve seen so many big guys, when they get around that ninth, 10th, 11th year, they keep adding weight, and it takes a toll so much on their body. They get hurt. You see a lot of older guys at the end of their career that they can’t make a 16-game season.
“That didn’t happen to him because he took the advice that the weight staff gave to him that the older you get, the harder it is going to get to lose it. And the harder it is going to be to play like that.
“I think Pick has done a fantastic job of managing his weight.”
Pickett leads the defensive line with 51 tackles (23 solo) this season, but tackles never tell the complete story of how well a guy is playing. With Pickett it starts with remarkable durability.
He has played in 161 of a possible 175 regular-season games during his career, missing just nine contests due to injury.
“Man, I don’t know what it is. Well, I know, it’s God,” Pickett said. “I just feel blessed to be able to play this long, really. The thing is, I feel great. It’s weird.
“I’m waiting to hit this wall: ‘OK, I’m over 30, my body is going to start feeling awful.’ But I’m in shape this year and my body feels excellent.”
Pickett has played hurt, through ankle and shoulder issues, but this year he’s enjoyed a full season without those problems.
“Pick is a pretty limber guy. That helps. He’s not stiff,” Trgovac said. “In the front, you get yourself in some bad positions. Knees get bent and stuff. He’s naturally a limber guy; if you have a stiffer guy, as you get older, obviously you get stiffer. That hasn’t happened yet.”
Coaches also say Pickett had a great command of the 3-4 defense now that he’s had three years in it. But they helped him out a little, too.
“We moved him a little closer to the ball,” Trgovac said. “The year before, there were times where he was out there on the end. Pick did that not being a selfish guy. Now in most of our defenses he’s at least a three-technique. That means on the outside he’s at least a shade on the guard. And he’s more comfortable on the inside. That’s really what he is.”
Pickett’s experience overall is paying off this season, both for him and for his teammates.
“He’s mastered the nose tackle, the shade front,” defensive lineman B.J. Raji said. “I’m man enough to admit it – the Chicago game, I had a little trouble with some of the things. I haven’t had the experience. Pick has had over 1,000 snaps at that position. There’s little nuances that he can pick up, like pre-snap, that I’m still trying to get him to help me with. Ultimately you can count on him. He’s a great asset to the team.”
Added Trgovac: “Pick’s about the finest human being I’ve ever been around. He really cares about being a Packer, he really cares about this defense.”
Pickett was on the phone last week checking in on former teammate Johnny Jolly, who was suspended from the National Football League after multiple drug arrests and then sentenced to six years in prison. It wasn’t long ago – just 2009 – when Jolly, Pickett and Cullen Jenkins led the Packers to a No. 1 ranking in rushing defense with a franchise-low 83.3 yards allowed per game. It was the first time Green Bay led the league in that category.
“I was telling him like, ‘Man, I’m the last one. . . here,’ ” Pickett said.
Who would have ever imagined that? Pickett and Charles Woodson are still general manager Ted Thompson’s two greatest free-agent signings – from all the way back in 2006. Pickett has had a great run the past six years, and he’s here partly because his wife was taken with Green Bay almost instantly.
The couple is a team of its own. Through Acts 1:8 Ministry, they’ve built 50 water towers for Uganda. Though he’s never been there, Pickett knows about the struggles of that country and decided he wanted to help, somehow. At Jennifer’s suggestion, he donated money to build the towers so that villages can collect their own rainwater, treat it and store it in towers, saving people from walking for miles to collect water that ends up being dirty and unhealthy.
Pickett also joined quarterbacks Matt Hasselbeck and Jon Kitna in an anti-pornography video message that was broadcast to 300 churches last Super Bowl Sunday. That’s not exactly a cause you see a lot of professional athletes take up, but Pickett, who is considered a great locker room guy and never uses his interviews or his own beliefs to push any agenda, decided it was a good message.
“It’s not me being judgmental – I’m just giving another point of view, another perspective,” Pickett said. “It was just pro-family. ‘OK, here’s another alternative: How about spending time with your family? Or only having eyes for your wife.’ That was the message.”
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