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Packers continue nose tackle dominance

GREEN BAY -- The Green Bay Packers could consider themselves lucky for having such good players at nose tackle over the years. Gilbert Brown and Grady Jackson were reliable and sometimes dominant at their craft, and the Packers even had Russell M...

GREEN BAY -- The Green Bay Packers could consider themselves lucky for having such good players at nose tackle over the years. Gilbert Brown and Grady Jackson were reliable and sometimes dominant at their craft, and the Packers even had Russell Maryland during a transitional phase.

Ryan Pickett may continue that exceptional lineage.

In his second season, Pickett is playing his best football in Green Bay and matching his best from the 2005 season when he was with St. Louis.

His ability to stop the run and absorb two offensive linemen will be counted on by the 4-1 Packers, who are preparing for the Washington Redskins, the10th-ranked rushing team (130 yards per game) in the National Football League.

This is what Pickett hoped for all along. Even when he failed his physical when the team reported for camp to start the season, he wanted to be the difference-maker.

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"I've gotten used to the system so in that way I think I've wanted to be more productive," said Pickett.

Weight is a touchy issue if you're not where you're supposed to be and every nose tackle mentioned here has been dogged by weight questions. It's a taboo subject and sometimes old and worn. Reporters act like carnival guessers at the state fair because coaches usually won't say what they want their nose tackle to weigh and the players won't reveal their tales from the scale.

Pickett is listed at 6 foot 2, 322 pounds and, frankly, the way he's been playing, who cares what he really weighs. His beauty is in the eye of the beholder -- his coaches.

"I don't care if you're big or small, if you can execute the defense, keep the linebackers as clean as possible, I'm happy," said Packers assistant head coach Winston Moss.

Pickett said he didn't show up for the season poorly conditioned.

"I wasn't really out of shape, I just didn't make the run," said Pickett. "I got tired that day. But I made it two days later. I worked my weight back in to player shape."

Defensive tackles coach Robert Nunn said Pickett's weight was not a concern.

"No problem there," said Nunn. "Since he's been in Green Bay, he's more focused right now than in the two years I've coached him as far as the big picture ... staying on top of his conditioning, eating habits, training habits, he's doing a good job, he's off to an outstanding start. His weight is good. He's got it under control."

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Pickett and his fellow linemen were the reason Chicago running back Cedric Benson averaged merely 2.4 yards per carry. At Minnesota, Pickett made five tackles and beat a right guard for a sack. He remained a force against San Diego's double teams and was an equal match against the Pro Bowl caliber offensive linemen he faced in the first three weeks.

"He had an outstanding game (against Minnesota)," said Nunn. "A lot of times he has good games, but he doesn't show up stat wise. But this time he showed up on the stat sheet because the plays were there. A lot of time, the plays may not be there for him because he does as good as he can do to help the linebackers make the plays."

Defensive coordinator Bob Sanders said Pickett had specific but important responsibilities that are rated either plus or minus. Pickett either makes the play or not, there's isn't gray area.

"He first has to hold his gap -- he gets a lot of double teams -- so he can't get shoved out of his gap," said Sanders. "He needs to stay square and get his hands clamped fast, holding runs at him and runs away. And against the pass, he needs to get some push up the middle so the quarterback can't step up and our outside guys can make a play. He's been solid. He had a sack against Minnesota and some pretty good pressure against Chicago."

Sacks aren't the best way to judge a Packers nose tackle and neither are other stats, but here are Pickett's numbers: 18 tackles, one sack. He's tied for 15th among all defensive linemen in tackles.

"You're going to be judged based upon your production but some schemes; you're going to be judged upon. Are you holding the right gap control? Are you pressing the pocket like you're supposed to," said Moss. "In our scheme, he's doing an excellent job."

Another test for Pickett will be endurance. Big guys get worn down and their knees get hurt. Pickett said he isn't worn out in games; he plays anywhere from half to two-third of the snaps and Sanders said the linemen rotation was an effort to increase their longevity.

"He better maintain it," said Moss. "A lot of guys are counting on him, he gets great coaching, so it's up to him to come out every single day and perform."

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-- Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune

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