GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Ryan Pickett has come a long way since 2007, when he was so badly out of shape that he couldn’t pass his conditioning test at the start of training camp.
Call him older -- and most of his teammates do -- but the Green Bay Packers defensive end appears to be playing like a much younger man. At age 33 and entering his 13th season, Pickett has learned to take his conditioning much more seriously.
The oldest player on the Packers’ roster, Pickett is in the final year of a four-year, $24.9 million contract he signed in 2010. With a salary and bonuses totaling $6.2 million this season, he’s the Packers’ highest-paid defensive lineman and their fourth-highest paid defensive player behind outside linebacker Clay Matthews ($22.02 million in 2013), safety Morgan Burnett ($9.573 million) and cornerback Tramon Williams ($6.5 million).
Pickett knows he is exactly the kind of aging player the Packers tend to let leave in free agency. He will turn 34 two days after the Packers’ Week 5 game against Detroit. He said this week that he hasn’t heard from the team at all about a contract extension. Nevertheless, he appears to be doing whatever necessary to continue his career.
For Pickett, that started in the offseason. He said he used to take off at least one month after each season to wind down. But after completing his 12th season (his seventh with the Packers) last January -- a year in which he played in all 16 regular-season games for the first time since 2008 and had the second-most snaps among the Packers’ defensive linemen -- Pickett said he decided to forgo any down time and went right into his workout routine.
When it comes to NFL big men, it’s wise to take a skeptical approach when listening to them talk about their weight, but Pickett said he’s as light as he has been in years. Listed at 6-foot-3 and 338 pounds, Pickett said this week that last season he would report for midweek weigh-ins at 338 pounds but by game day would be back up to 345.
“Now I weigh 335, and I stay there,” Pickett said this week. “So I’m really probably 10 pounds lighter. It was by design. I really want to lose about five more pounds this camp and play at like 330. I wanted to be able to move better, be a little quicker, but I still feel like I can hold double teams the same.”
If training camp practices are any indication, the Packers don’t have any plans to reduce Pickett’s playing time. He still takes most of the first snaps at defensive end in the base defense and when defensive coordinator Dom Capers wants a run-stopping front in his nickel defense, he has continued to use Pickett as one of the two defensive tackles.
“I think Ryan’s done a great job of understanding that as he gets older, he needs to come into camp in better shape,” Packers defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said. “Every year the past couple years, he’s come into camp better and better so he’s not working on getting into shape. He’s already in shape.”
Perhaps that’s why Pickett has been able to prolong his career when other former Packers’ defensive linemen such as Gilbert Brown and Grady Jackson both were done in Green Bay by age 32 (although Jackson played four more years with three other teams) and why Pickett thinks he has a decent chance of going for a few more years. The only training camp practice he has missed this year was one earlier this week after his 1-year-old daughter had a medical emergency, which turned out to be nothing serious.
“This is the last year of my contract here, but I still feel good,” Pickett said. “I get all the old jokes from everybody, but I’m going to play until I don’t feel good. I don’t have a number in mind, but I’m definitely going to play after this year.”