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Pickett Proves Stout in the Middle

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  • Pickett Proves Stout in the Middle

    Saturday, November 5, 2005

    By Nick Wagoner
    Senior Writer

    By the time Ryan Pickett was in middle school, he was already bigger than the rest of the kids. Because of his considerable size – he weighed 300 pounds in high school – and his eerie resemblance to his father Rubin, everyone called him “Big Grease.”

    Rubin was the original Big Grease, given to him by his brother-in-law apparently because he was a smooth operator. As Ryan grew older and larger, though, he eventually claimed the name of Big Grease.

    “I’m pretty smooth, but I just look like my old man,” Pickett said. “If you ever see him, you’d be like wow. I’ll look just like him in about 27 years.”

    Now, Ryan maintains that nickname and Rubin is just Grease, minus the Big. The evolution of Pickett’s nicknames might seem minute in the big picture, but in reality Pickett has had a couple of monikers that let you get a read on how he went from the youngest member of the Pickett clan to the stout, run stuffing defensive tackle of the St. Louis Rams.

    Toughening Up

    Growing up as the youngest in a family with two brothers and a sister can be tough on any child and Pickett was no exception. Almost every day, his brothers, Rubin Jr. and Booker would pound on him, telling him it would only make him tougher.

    But it wasn’t the older men in his family that gave Pickett the most problems. His sister Suphia was the biggest culprit.

    “She was the main one,” Pickett said. “She was the ringleader. My older brother made my middle brother and me fight all the time and wrestle. They would just beat me up. They tried to make me tough and that’s what they did.”

    Little did Pickett’s siblings know that they were preparing him for a career in the NFL. When Pickett was young he quickly fell in love with football, unfortunately his size prevented him from participating as much as he would have liked. He played pee wee ball until he was about 8, but he grew too big to make weight to play with kids his age.

    “It was real frustrating,” Pickett said. “I think after I stopped playing football I got even bigger. I was just like a little, round kid with nothing to do.”

    His mother Mae refused to let Pickett play up in age, worried that he would get seriously hurt. In the meantime, Pickett became one of the biggest, most intimidating pitchers and catchers to grace Little League.

    But that time away from football was essentially torture for Pickett. He watched his brother playing and excelling on the gridiron and he wanted that for himself. Booker was so good he earned a spot on the Miami Hurricanes, one of the premiere college programs in the nation.

    Instead of football, the poundings from his siblings had to suffice as Pickett’s method of toughening up.

    “My older brothers beat me up when my mom wasn’t around,” Pickett said. “When she was around they didn’t mess with me, but when she left my two brothers and my older sister. They didn’t take it easy on me at all.”

    Pickett was finally able to get back on the football field when he entered middle school. There, he quickly learned the tricks of the trade and the Big Grease moniker became his trademark.

    Soft as Cotton

    As his football career at Zephyrhills (Fla.) High began, Pickett became one of the mainstays at defensive end. At 300 pounds, he was still bigger than the rest of the kids, but he had the athleticism to go with it.

    Pickett had found his calling, following in the footsteps of his brother and single-handedly dominating games from his end position. Pickett was so dominant, in fact, that by the time he was a senior, opponents were game planning ways to keep the ball away from him.

    That was no problem for Zephyrhills Coach Tom Fisher, though. He quickly found a solution to keep Big Grease involved in the defense.

    The solution? Make Pickett, who was once the biggest 8-year old pitcher in Little League into the biggest middle linebacker anyone has ever seen. That’s right, Pickett moved off the defensive line and into the middle of the defense.

    Sure he didn’t have the speed of a Ray Lewis or the instincts of Mike Singletary, but the move paid off handsomely.

    Pickett posted a school-record 142 tackles with seven sacks as a senior. He was the only 300-pound middle linebacker in the country, a label he proudly maintains to this day; though there is no confirmation that another hasn’t come along.

    “I think I was the only one,” Pickett said. “I’ve never seen it. I liked it. I knew I wasn’t going to play middle linebacker in college or anything like that, but it was fun.”

    Although his teammates, friends and everyone else in Zephyrhills came to love the man known as the Big Grease, his father Rubin had a different nickname for his fun-loving, always-affable son.

    No matter how well Pickett would play – he could have 15 tackles, four sacks and a fumble recovery – Rubin was always his biggest critic. Rubin thought his son wasn’t playing hard enough, so he would constantly chide Pickett.

    “I’d hear my dad calling me from the bleachers and my friends would say ‘Hey Ryan, your dad is calling you,” Pickett said. “I would not want to look back because I knew what he was going to say.”

    Instead of showering his son with praise or offering constructive criticism, Rubin would let his son know that he wasn’t too fond of the way he was carrying himself on the field.

    “He’d call my name, ‘Ryan, Ryan’ and I’d look back and he’d say ‘Cotton, why you playing so soft?” Pickett said. “I had this big game and my dad would say that. Finally, I said ‘Dad what can I do? No matter how good I play, you say I am playing soft.’ He said ‘Son, it’s because you could play so much better, you are playing good now because you have more talent than the rest of these kids, what happens when you play someone with more talent?”

    Pickett preferred the Big Grease nickname and he decided soon after that he didn’t want anything to do with being called Cotton. Between the physical poundings from his siblings and the verbal jabs from his father, Pickett began to realize his potential.

    “My dad stopped calling me Cotton at the end of my senior year when I realized what he meant and I started competing,” Pickett said. “I started playing harder and I wasn’t just doing enough to get by, I became a leader.”

    Not only did the name calling stop, but Pickett finally put an end to the physical beatings. At his graduation party, his brothers challenged him to a wrestling match. The normally overmatched Ryan put his brother on his back. Instantly, the baby boy of the Pickett family was larger than life.

    Snowed In

    Pickett’s astounding performance as a linebacker brought the college coaches to Zephyrhills in bunches. Every major program in the land wanted a piece of Big Grease.

    But it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Pickett would stay in Florida. But one by one he eliminated each of the Florida schools.

    Pickett didn’t like the way Florida State turned its biggest players into offensive lineman. Miami just didn’t do it for him and Rubin wanted him to go to Florida.

    So when Pickett took his visit to Ohio State, he instantly fell in love with the campus and the coaching staff. Even the white, powdery stuff that he had never seen before had a certain appeal.

    “I went to Columbus and it was my first time being in the snow and stuff like that, I was really excited,” Pickett said.

    Pickett committed to coach John Cooper and the Buckeyes on the spot, but the staff promptly threw a wrench in his plans. With the staff and Pickett in a room, a call was placed to Pickett’s parents.

    When Ryan told his parents that he was going to Ohio State, they immediately protested and told him to think it over. But Pickett was smitten and Rubin and Mae relented to his wishes.

    Pickett loved the atmosphere in Columbus and how the entire city would shut down when the Buckeyes had a game. The Florida kid even enjoyed the snow, for a while.

    “The first couple of days I did, but after that, I was like aw man, what did I get myself into?” Pickett said. “We would go to school and there would be days I’d wake up and it would be like negative 2 degrees, I would say Oh no, I can’t even go to class today, it’s too cold. I really didn’t know what I got myself into.”

    Pickett had a solid three seasons in Columbus, starting every year and making 109 tackles with eight sacks.

    Although he won’t fully attribute his decision to leave Ohio State early for the NFL Draft, he does say that the snow and cold helped him make the choice.

    Wake Up Call

    Some questioned Pickett’s decision to come out in the 2001 NFL Draft as he was projected to go anywhere from the second to the fourth round. It was difficult to figure out where Pickett would fit in considering some of the other defensive tackles (Richard Seymour, Marcus Stroud, Shaun Rogers to name a few) that were entered in that draft.

    Pickett was slightly worried that his status was dipping, but he impressed the Rams enough to become the 29th choice, even going ahead of the more-touted Rogers.

    The adjustment to the speed and strength of the NFL wasn’t an easy one for Pickett. He was used to starting every game and always being on the field, but his rookie year wasn’t what he was used to.

    It didn’t take long for Pickett to realize he was in the big show when he met defensive line coach Bill Kollar. Never had Pickett met a coach with the vocal chords of Kollar, who was constantly in his ear. Even in his dreams, Pickett heard the screams.

    “That was the wake up call of a lifetime when I came and saw Coach Kollar,” Pickett said. “I had never experienced anything like him. Throughout college I had never had a coach like him or in high school. It was a nightmare. I thought this guy has got to hate me. He has to. There is no way in the world he likes me. As you kept playing you realize he was on you for your own benefit. But at first, I thought he hates me.”

    That first year was almost a lost season for Pickett. He was inactive for the first nine games before emerging on the active Sunday roster. He played as a reserve defensive tackle and on special teams. He had 24 tackles, but he expected much more of himself.

    It didn’t take long after that for Pickett to begin to reach his potential. He had a breakout year in 2002, starting 14 games and finishing second on the team with 107 tackles.

    Pickett’s ascension to the top tier of tackles was slowed considerably in 2003. He suffered a high ankle sprain that kept him out of action and hurt his performance when he did play. He made 74 tackles that season and finished with 81 last year.

    Neither of the past two years have been up to Pickett’s standard for himself, but a lot of those struggled have been expected.

    Breaking Out

    As Pickett entered the final year of his contract this season, the expectations for him were at an all time high.

    "When we drafted these guys No. 1, the first thing everybody said - and I believe it - was that for a tackle, it usually takes three years to really establish yourself," coach Mike Martz said.

    After battling back problems throughout the preseason, Pickett started to establish himself as a real force in the middle of the defensive line. He consistently occupies multiple blockers and has gotten constant push up the middle.

    Halfway through the season, Pickett is fifth on the team with 40 tackles and has added a sack and a half. Of course, the constraints of his position make it hard to evaluate just how well Pickett is playing without watching him on film.

    “You play hard, you are in your gap, you are in your gap, you do everything right and everything it takes and there’s a cutback and you don’t get the tackle,” Pickett said. “You know you are doing your job, but sometimes it’s hard to get tackles on the defensive line.”

    Still, it is pretty clear that Pickett is playing better than he has at any point since his breakout 2002 season. Pickett will be a free agent after this season, but never has his value to the Rams been any clearer than it is right now.

    “Grease has been great all year long,” interim coach Joe Vitt said. “He’s one of the better noses in the national football league. Most of the day he is taking on two people, he is doing a great job of holding the play, he does a great job of pursuing the passer and he does a really good job on screens. He’s playing as good as any nose in the league right now.”

Related Topics


  • RamWraith
    Pickett is off to best start
    by RamWraith
    By Bill Coats

    Examining a photo of the 1992 Stewart Middle School football team, Ryan Pickett's eyes brightened when he located the chubby youngster in the No. 53 jersey. "I've been playing ball since I was a little boy," Pickett mused, "and I just knew I could do it."

    By "do it," he meant be successful in the NFL. Pickett, a defensive tackle, is in his fifth season with the Rams. If the first two games are a true barometer, it could be his best. "If he can stay healthy, I think he's as good as any young tackle in the league," Rams defensive end Tyoka Jackson said.

    Pickett, 25, had a big year in 2002, when he collected 107 tackles, second on the team. But he suffered a high-ankle sprain early in the '03 season, and it became a nagging encumbrance. His tackle totals dipped to 74 that year and 81 last season.

    The ankle is strong again, a sore back that bothered him during training camp has cleared up, and the 6-foot-2, 330-pound Pickett has been pounding away. He has 16 tackles, second to linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa's team-leading 19 and 12 more than any other interior defender.

    "He had a good game against San Francisco, and he had a really good game Sunday" at Arizona, fellow lineman Damione Lewis said. "I'm really happy for him."

    Pickett directed considerable credit to the revamped linebackers corps, where veteran free agents Chris Claiborne and Dexter Coakley joined Tinoisamoa. "They're getting up quick, so we're not on double-teams as long, and that's enabled us to make more plays," Pickett explained.

    The effect has been dramatic: The Rams rank third in the 32-team league against the run; last season, they were No. 29.

    "A little rowdy"

    Several Ohio State coaches surrounded him and the speaker phone was engaged when an anxious Pickett, then 18, dialed up his parents from Columbus. "I told them, 'I'm going to Ohio State,'" Pickett recalled. "And there was just silence. They were like, 'Son, come home and let's talk about it.'"

    Ryan is the youngest of Rubin and Mae Pickett's four children. "They always considered me the baby," he said. As such, he was a favorite target for brothers Rubin Jr. and Booker, and sister Suphia. "Yeah, yeah, they used to dog him," Rubin Sr. said. "They were always on Ryan to get meaner, to get tougher. I think it worked."

    Lewis said Pickett's on-field temperament belies his otherwise laid-back demeanor. "He gets a little rowdy out there," Lewis said.

    Most of the family still lives about 25 miles north of Tampa in Zephyrhills, Fla., which Pickett described as "a little country town." Pickett prompted considerable municipal pride - the mayor organized...
    -09-25-2005, 04:43 AM
  • Varg6
    What if Ryan Pickett...
    by Varg6
    Hey everyone, I was just wondering what you guys think...

    What if Ryan Pickett went to the probowl last year, do you think we would've retained him because of that? I'm not sure if it really makes all the difference, but on the other hand, maybe if he went there, it would've made the Rams want him more.
    -05-29-2006, 08:32 AM
  • RamWraith
    Player Spotlight: Ryan Pickett
    by RamWraith
    By John Raffel,

    Ryan Pickett showed professional football potential as early as his high school days. And he's enjoying as much success in his brief career with the St. Louis Rams as he did as a prep football player in Florida and a collegiate starter at Ohio State.

    The 6-foot-2, 310-pound Pickett, a nose tackle, is still considered by pro football scouts as a young player on the rise with a lot of power and athletic abilities and good intensity playing the run. The Rams picked him in the first round, 29th overall, in the 2001 NFL Draft. He played in 11 games during his first season and three postseason contests in a reserve role on the defensive line and on special teams.

    Since his rookie year, he's turned into more of an established pro player.

    "Things went pretty well," Pickett said toward the end of the 2003 season. "I played well. In my third year, I was getting the hang of it. The hardest part from the college years is pretty much knowing that you have to take care of business."

    At Ohio State, Pickett was a three-year starter and played both tackle positions. For his career, he finished with 109 tackles (72 solos), eight sacks for minus 39 yards and 20 stops for losses of 67 yards in 37 contests. He played at left defensive tackle junior season, recording 39 tackles (21 solos) with three sacks, four passes defensed and two forced fumbles.

    An all-Big Ten Conference honorable mention as a sophomore, he started every game at right defensive tackle and made career-high 48 tackles (34 solos) with three sacks and one pass defense.

    Pickett played in every game as a true freshman, starting final nine contests at right defensive tackle and finished with 22 tackles (17 solos), two sacks for minus-10 yards, and five stops for losses of 19 yards.

    The native of Zephyrhills, Fla., was a consensus all-American selection, adding all-state honors, at Zephyrhills High. He was named one of the top 25 players in country by National Recruiting Advisor. He had 119 tackles and seven sacks during his senior season.

    "We had a good program. We always had pretty good teams," said Pickett who played defensive end his junior year and nose tackle as a senior. "Linebacker was my favorite position of all."

    Pickett said he started organized football at age 7 and has always played defense.

    "I played offense my senior year in high school at offensive tackle," he said. "On defense, you get to hit. I like that."

    Pickett received some friendly advice when it came to advancing his football career past high school.

    "Our coaches helped us to get to the college level," Pickett said. "My head coach (Tom Fisher) taught me a lot about responsibility and kept me focused on things."

    Pickett was...
    -09-10-2004, 06:24 PM
  • thermobee
    by thermobee
    Why do we let players like him? He is a great run stopper and guess what we need. We drafted him why not keep him? If the same thing happens with OJ I am seriously going to questions the Rams decisions.

    PS I know the FO was different at that time, but either way you think about it, it doesnt make sense.
    -02-23-2010, 07:44 PM
  • Nick
    Pickett gives up glory in new scheme
    by Nick
    Pickett gives up glory in new scheme
    In 3-4, his job is to occupy blockers, not make plays
    By Rob Demovsky
    September 1, 2009

    Last season, Ryan Pickett’s job description was simple — stuff running backs for as little gain as possible.

    He did just that, finishing fifth on the Green Bay Packers — and second among the team’s defensive linemen — in tackles with 81 despite rarely playing on passing downs.

    The switch to the 3-4 defense forced Pickett to move to from defensive tackle to nose tackle, a position foreign to him during his entire football life. Despite playing the equivalent of about five quarters of football in the first three preseason games combined, the ninth-year veteran hasn’t recorded a tackle. His name doesn’t appear anywhere on the preseason stat sheet.

    Nevertheless, the Packers’ coaches aren’t sounding the alarm bells.

    A couple of factors go into Pickett’s relative anonymity so far:

    ♦ He hasn’t played as many snaps as expected because the Packers have used so much of their nickel package, in which an extra defensive back subs in for Pickett.

    ♦ He’s still adjusting to the new defense, in which his responsibilities are completely different.

    In most calls, he’s responsible for clogging the “A” gaps — the spaces between the center and the guards — and taking on the center in order to keep the interior linemen off of the linebackers. In other words, he’s there to occupy blockers and take up space so that other guys can make plays. In other, less frequent calls, he has the freedom to fire off the snap and attack the ball carrier.

    That said, Pickett hasn’t immediately turned into Pittsburgh’s Casey Hampton or New England’s Vince Wilfork, two of the preeminent 3-4 nose tackles in the NFL. But the 29-year-old is slowly beginning to embrace his new role, even if it’s one that’s likely to take him out of a play-making position.

    “There ain’t going to be much busting up the field and making plays for me in this defense,” Pickett said. “There’s a couple of calls they give us, but for the most part, that’s it. It’s different — a lot different than what I’m used to — but I think I’m adjusting to it and getting the hang of it.”

    But does he like it?

    “Part of you misses just getting to blow off the ball,” Pickett said. “Sometimes we get a couple of calls where we do, and you’re just excited to get them. So you look forward to those calls.”

    They won’t happen very often. The main job of a 3-4 nose is to occupy double teams, eat up blockers and let the free-flowing linebackers make the plays and get the glory. Pickett, one of the underrated team players in the Packers’ locker room, says he doesn’t have a big problem with that.

    However, learning the new techniques this defense requires has been a significant adjustment....
    -09-02-2009, 08:26 AM