That was cemented the moment the Green Bay Packers picked Biegel in the fourth round of this year’s draft after they passed on Watt and traded their first-round pick (No. 29 overall) to the Cleveland Browns. The Packers took Biegel with one of the picks they acquired in the trade (cornerback Kevin King, in the second round, was the other), while the Pittsburgh Steelers grabbed Watt at No. 30.
Seven months later, it’s time to examine where things stand between the two Wisconsin natives, considering the Packers play at Pittsburgh on Sunday night. This could be Biegel’s best chance to make a lasting impression. His snap count is expected to spike given the groin injury to Clay Matthews, and he could see his most extensive action since he made his NFL debut three weeks ago after coming off the physically unable to perform list following foot surgery in May.
In three games, he’s played 41 snaps and has yet to record a sack -- at least not officially, even though Packers outside linebackers coach Winston Moss thinks he deserved half of the sack Dean Lowry got against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday (more on that below).
Meanwhile, Watt has been everything Packers fans would've wanted had general manager Ted Thompson selected him. He opened the regular season with a two-sack, one-interception game and ranks tied for third among all rookies with four sacks. Only Cincinnati’s Carl Lawson (5.5) and Philadelphia’s Derek Barnett (4.5) have more sacks among this year’s rookie class.
It was back in August, when Biegel was on the PUP list and Watt recorded two sacks in his preseason debut, that the Packers rookie said while he was happy for Watt, “it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” and that he knew he would have to be patient.
“Obviously, it was nice to see T.J. start off like that, but my focus is here with Green Bay,” Biegel said this week. “They drafted me for a reason, and I want to be able to be a productive player for them for a long time. At that point in time, when you guys were interviewing me, I meant it to be patient. Now it’s continuing to build every week. I’m staying focused on what I’ve got to do.”
When asked whether he was trying to downplay the Watt storyline this week, Biegel said: “Downplay stuff? I’ll be honest with you, on the record, everything, that has not crossed my mind one time. T.J.’s his own guy, I’m my own guy. I know the fans and I know you guys like to build up stories and kind of make things bigger than what they are, but it is truly for me another week against a great offense in Pittsburgh, and for me it’s about continuing to get better every week. I know that sounds cliché but ...
“T.J.’s a great player and he’s been doing great things in Pittsburgh. But listen to me: I’m focused on what I’m doing. I’m focused on what’s going on here in Green Bay.”
With Matthews’ status up in the air, defensive coordinator Dom Capers likely will increase reps for Biegel and second-year pro Kyler Fackrell, who recorded his first sack of the season Sunday against the Ravens after Matthews dropped out. Biegel looked like he should have shared a sack with Lowry, who was given the full sack.
“Coach Moss sent it in to be reviewed, so we’ll find out in a few days if I got a half-sack or not,” Biegel said. “But hey, at the end of the day, it was a great defensive play, so whether I get the stat or not, it was a good defensive play.”
Capers said Biegel “probably needs to be ready for more” playing time. For his part, Biegel said he’s ready for it after slowly working his way back from foot surgery.
“I missed OTAs, I missed minicamp, I missed preseason, I missed the first six games of the season,” Biegel said. “For me, the more time as the weeks progress, the more practice time I’ve had, the more game experience I had, my confidence has continued to get better. This last Sunday I feel like my twitch and my step was starting to really come back. As the weeks go on, I’m going to continue to get better and I’ll be able to take on the workload. Whatever they put me in, if they give me five reps, if they give me 30, whatever the case is, I’ll be ready for it and continue to build each week.”