Notebook: Pickett, Raji Offer Flexibility For D-Line

Having players with versatility at any position is a plus, and that is no different for a Packers defensive line that lined up differently during the team’s first open OTA practice than they did last season. - More Mike McCarthy Press Conference Transcript - May 19

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Having players with versatility at any position is a plus, and that is no different for a Packers defensive line that lined up differently during the team's first open OTA practice than it did last season.

With last season's starting left defensive end Johnny Jolly absent from Wednesday's voluntary workout since he has yet to sign his free-agent tender, the Packers' No. 1 defensive line was comprised of Ryan Pickett at left end, B.J. Raji at nose tackle, and Cullen Jenkins at right end.

Defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said the move was more about making sure Raji and Pickett get enough work at both spots so they are comfortable if injuries occur like they did last season. Pickett was the team's primary nose tackle in '09 while Raji worked mainly at left end and inside in sub packages.

The 337-pound Raji, who missed the first two weeks of training camp last year as a rookie since he had not signed a contract yet, also was sidelined for two games in the season due to an ankle injury. He saw increased time at nose tackle when Pickett missed much of the last month with a hamstring injury.

Trgovac stopped short of calling the switch permanent, and said ultimately the decision will be made by Head Coach Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers after they watch film of practices.

"It could be (permanent)," Trgovac said. "This is the time of year you want to do things like that. I think B.J. and 'Pick' are, for their size, very versatile guys. We want to make sure that they both have work at nose and end.

"Actually in my individual stuff and on the side, I've worked B.J. at end and 'Pick' some at nose. This is the time of the year where you want to make sure they are up on assignments, first of all, and secondly the techniques they have to use."

McCarthy and Trgovac pointed to the athleticism of both players as being a reason they are able to work them at different spots.

"They are both two very athletic guys or we wouldn't be trying this right here," Trgovac said. "The end is a little bit more of an athletic position because of some of the things he has to do with containing the quarterback. I think they are both very good, athletic guys. Obviously with B.J.'s body size, he is built for a nose guard. It just happens that we have two of them.

"Right now when you look at our depth, our three best players are 'Pick', B.J. and Cullen, so we want to get the three best on the field. Who knows, maybe in the third week of this Mike tells us to flip them back to make sure 'Pick' is getting enough work at nose. But right now we just want them to have the ability to play both positions."

Transitioning to a new defense under Capers last season, Pickett played a major role in helping the Packers lead the NFL in rushing defense for the first time in franchise history with a team-record average of 83.3 yards allowed per game. But in some games last season Pickett's snaps were very limited because teams became particularly pass-heavy.

Once Jolly returns, that will be one more option added to the rotation, but for now, finding ways to get the best players on the field as much as possible is the team's focus.

"Just to have the flexibility of having players that can play more than one position, that's what we're looking at, and you can't really get away from the fact that, how much time are you really going to be in base defense?" McCarthy said. "More and more each year these offenses are challenging you with the vertical passing game and sub groups and so forth. So having the opportunity to have players play more than one position is a big part of our success on defense."

Staying the same

Participation in offseason workouts has increased throughout the league over the past several years, but for McCarthy, that has been all he has known since coming into the league with Kansas City in 1993.

"When I was with Marty Schottenheimer from 1993-98, pretty much the whole team was there in March, April, May and June," McCarthy said. "Green Bay in '99 (when McCarthy coached quarterbacks) was different. That was not the case in '99, and then when I went to New Orleans the whole football team was there during the spring.

"That's why I felt it was important when I returned here that that program was in place, because it's an opportunity for your players to individually improve. It's an opportunity for the coaches and players to get on the same page, and then more importantly, you are able to maximize those OTA practices when you come together. You're not trying to catch up this guy and put this guy on the same page. That's really all I know and that's the way that we'll always go about it."

{sportsad300}McCarthy did make a few tweaks to the offseason schedule, giving players a week off after the five weeks of weightlifting were completed earlier in the spring. The players will also have next week off before returning for three weeks of OTAs and the mandatory mini-camp.

"It really stemmed from the strength and conditioning," McCarthy said. "We felt that we had a very high number of our players that fell into a category of overtraining. We looked at the things we were doing in the weight room. We looked very closely at once the players were inter-mixing their activities and drills in the weight room to what we do on the field once the coaches get involved. Then the third part is now how the weight room is integrated into the OTA practices.

"We felt frankly that we were stressing our players out, so that is why we made the adjustment where we went five weeks of purely in the weight room and then four weeks more of an individual emphasis and also with the weight-room work with another week off. Then we'll finish with another four weeks that will be truly focused on the OTA atmosphere."

A little early

The Green Bay Packers were ranked No. 1 by Sports Illustrated NFL writer Peter King in his offseason power rankings earlier this week, but quarterback Aaron Rodgers said he isn't putting much stock into that kind of praise.

"I was sent a link to that, so I checked it out," Rodgers said. "I was laughing at Sean Payton's comments when he went to the Super Bowl podium about Peter ranking them No. 24 last season.

"We're trying to get better and trying to work on fundamentals. We're not even to training camp yet or any preseason games, so it really doesn't mean anything."

Not only did King's No. 24 ranking of the Saints show the difficulty of forecasting the league at this point of the year, but he also had the Chicago Bears, who missed the playoffs, as his No. 1 team at this time in 2009.

"I don't know if that's a good thing in May," McCarthy said. "We fully plan and prepare and emphasize everything that we do as our path to get to the Super Bowl, which I'm sure is like any of the other teams.

"If Peter thinks that high of us, that's great, but there won't be any games that are going to be won this week, so it's irrelevant. But it's nice when people say nice things about you I guess."

Participation strong

The Packers had a vast majority of the roster in attendance for Wednesday's voluntary OTA practice at Ray Nitschke Field, the first of four workouts that will be open to the public.

Green Bay's three restricted free agents that have yet to sign their tenders, Jolly, safety Atari Bigby, and cornerback Tramon Williams, were not in attendance. Veteran cornerbacks Charles Woodson and Al Harris (knee) weren't on the field, and linebacker Nick Barnett also sat out practice.

Players coming back from injuries that were on the field but did not participate were cornerback Will Blackmon (knee), tight end Spencer Havner (scapula), tackle/guard T.J. Lang (wrist), safety Derrick Martin (ankle), wide receiver Brett Swain (knee), center/guard Jason Spitz (back) and defensive end Ronald Talley (knee).

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