GREEN BAY, Wis. – The departures of receiver Donald Driver and defensive back Charles Woodson in the offseason gave Ryan Pickett a new title with the Green Bay Packers.
While B.J. Raji gets the headlines when it comes to the Packers' defensive line, alongside him is the durable Pickett, who goes into his 13th NFL season as the oldest player on the roster at the age of 33.
With the Packers playing their second preseason game at St. Louis on Saturday night, Pickett returns to where his lengthy career started when he was one of the Rams' first-round draft picks in 2001. Pickett isn't getting sentimental about playing his former team in the Edward Jones Dome, something he's done a few times since leaving St. Louis and signing as a free agent with the Packers in 2006.
"I've been here so long I'd forgotten about (playing for) St. Louis, really," Pickett said Thursday. "It's just another game for me."
Having played more than 200 games as a pro — from preseason to the regular season to the playoffs — Pickett is looking forward to many more. He wants to keep playing past this season after his four-year contract with the Packers runs out.
"This won't be my last year playing," Pickett said.
And Pickett isn't ready to leave Green Bay, where he's been a run-stuffing mainstay in the starting lineup and has a home with his wife and their six young children.
"I'd love to stay here, absolutely," Pickett said.
The Green Bay coaches are happy to have Pickett back for another season as a dependable anchor on the defensive line.
"Ryan's a rock, and Ryan knows his role on this defense and he takes great pride in it," defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said.
With no more than 1½ sacks in any of the previous seven seasons with the Packers and none the last two years, Pickett has left the splash plays on defense to the likes of linebacker Clay Matthews and Raji. But Pickett has been productive in his own right by splitting double teams in the trenches and wrapping up the ball carrier.
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers singled out Pickett's efforts in a run-oriented drill at practice Wednesday.
"He was in the backfield two or three times and being disruptive, which is what 'Pick' can do," Capers said.
Pickett led Green Bay's defensive linemen last season with 75 tackles, his highest total since Capers was hired to run the defense in 2009 and implemented a 3-4 scheme.
"Since I've been here, I thought that was his best year," said Trgovac, who also joined the Green Bay staff in 2009. "Even when he's tired, you put him in the game, he hustles to the ball, he does what you tell him to do. It's naturally in his DNA."
Pickett's workmanlike contributions and his longevity in the NFL are testaments to his generally good health and a determination to play every week. Pickett has missed only 14 games in his career. He started every game in 2012, the first time he played an entire season since 2008.
"You play this game, you get nicks and bruises and stuff like that," Pickett said. "(But) I didn't even think about it that I played every game last year. That's what I normally did throughout the years — I don't miss too many games."
Raji, who has been a running mate of Pickett on the D-line since 2009, isn't surprised by Pickett's staying power.
"Pick takes good care of his body," Raji said. "He's obviously a tough guy to play nose (tackle) for 13 years. You have to be tough mentally and tough physically."
For the 6-foot-2, 338-pound Pickett, managing his weight has helped him play at a high level. And being the oldest Packer in the locker room is a distinction Pickett embraces.
"I get all of the 'old' jokes now," a smiling Pickett said. "I catch them pretty much every day. But it doesn't bother me. I love it. I tell 'em (his teammates) I've been around long enough to have these old jokes cracked at me, so I'm doing something right."
Also Thursday, coach Mike McCarthy defended Aaron Rodgers after Driver made critical remarks about the quarterback during an ESPN radio interview.
Driver, who retired in February as the Packers' all-time leading receiver, was asked whether Rodgers is a "me" guy following similar comments by ex-Packers receiver Greg Jennings, now with Minnesota.
"We've always been in the room and we've always said that the quarterback is the one who needs to take the pressure off of everyone else," Driver said. "If a guy runs the wrong route, it's easy for the quarterback to say, 'Hey, I told him to run that route,' than the guy to say, 'Hey, I ran the wrong route.' Sometimes you ask Aaron to take the pressure off those guys so we don't look bad. He didn't want to do that. He felt like if you did something bad, you do it. That's the difference. You want that leadership. I think sometimes you may not feel like you got it."
McCarthy said he was aware of Driver's interview and some of the comments that were made.
"Frankly, I think Aaron manages his job responsibility very well," McCarthy said. "I'm very fond of Donald. I know he's going through a tough period right now with his loss (his father's death), and my thoughts and prayers are out to him and his family. But I don't know what to really say about the comments."
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