Green Bay's opponents racked up an average of 125.6 yards per game on the ground. Green Bay surrendered more than 100 yards rushing to opponents 11 times last year, including 150 or more yards five times.
In an attempt to stem the bleeding, Green Bay signed unrestricted free agent Ryan Pickett in early March to a five-year, $14 million contract. Pickett led all NFL defensive linemen with 115 tackles in 2005 for St. Louis. The 26-year-old will be a key figure in Green Bay's interior defensive line this season, and should be an improvement to the front line than the 33-year-old Grady Jackson.
Defensive coordinator Bob Sanders was vague in comparing Pickett and Jackson, but the Packers obviously feel that Pickett will help them more against the run than Jackson, or they wouldn't have given Pickett the multi-year deal. Jackson, an unrestricted free agent, is still unsigned.
"Each one might be a little stronger than the other one, but the other is not void in that area," Sanders said. "The main thing is we have an anchor-type guy that can push the pocket and both of those guys can do that in their own way."
Pickett is learning a scheme that the Rams did not employ. While with the Rams for the past five seasons, Pickett played mainly nose tackle, often lining up over the center. He has moved to Green Bay this off-season, using the mini-camps and upcoming organized team activities to get acquainted with Sanders' defense.
"For one, St. Louis used a defense where you shoot the gaps," Pickett said. "This defense more like a gap-control defense. You're not getting up the field too much on certain calls. It's more geared toward stopping the run."
With Pickett and a revamped linebacker corp, which is younger and has more speed, the Packers are headed in the right direction toward improving against the run. The team also re-signed defensive end Aaron Kampman, signed free agent Kenderick Allen and drafted defensive linemen Johnny Jolly and Dave Tollefson.
Pickett, however, will be a key, and he is looking forward to the challenge, not only on the field but off of it as well.
"I go out there and do my best, but I think we've got some good guys here too, just from seeing them in the interior," Pickett said. "I'm going to do my part, however I can. I'm one of the oldest (interior linemen), so I'm going to be more of a leader. When I went to St. Louis I was the youngest. Now I'm one of the oldest. I'm in a position that I haven't been in before. I'll try to help them out. Watch what say and do. Try to set an example and work hard. Show the young players what it takes to survive in the league."