GREEN BAY — Vince Biegel was watching. And, cheering. And if there were any pangs of jealousy as he watched his former University of Wisconsin teammate and fellow NFL rookie pass rusher T.J. Watt record a pair of sacks in his preseason debut for the Pittsburgh Steelers last Friday night, well, Biegel wasn’t letting on.
“Listen, you always cheer for your teammates. It was awesome to see T.J. do well in his debut, as a fellow Badger,” the Green Bay Packers rookie outside linebacker said. “You want to see your fellow teammates go out there and do well. I was extremely happy for him.”
Then, Biegel paused and thought for a moment. While the ex-Badgers star can talk a mile a minute when he gets revved up, he wanted to make sure he was precise with his choice of words. It hasn’t been easy being marooned on the physically unable to perform list throughout training camp following offseason surgery on his right foot. But he’s been Mr. Positive since camp opened on July 26, and the last thing he wanted to do was sound sulky over Watt’s boffo beginning.
“I think it’s important for me and also for people to know it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” said Biegel, pointing out that his pro career is following a similar script to his UW career, which began with a broken left foot during his true freshman season.
“A lot of people don’t know, when I first got to Wisconsin, I actually got hurt right away, too, and I redshirted my first year. It’s funny how I come to Green Bay and I get hurt and I have to be patient. I’m learning the playbook first before I step on the field. It’s kind of like deja vu. When it comes to injuries, you’ve got to be patient.”
Then, Biegel paused again.
“It’s not how you start,” he repeated. “It’s how you finish.”
That doesn’t mean Biegel isn’t eager to get started, however. During this week’s practices, Biegel was working with athletic trainer Nate Weir on rehabilitation drills outside, another step in what he repeatedly refers to as “the process” after spending the first two-plus weeks of camp doing his rehab work inside the Don Hutson Center.
Biegel missed a pair of games during his senior season at UW after having surgery on the foot. He re-injured it during the Packers’ post-draft rookie orientation camp in May, had another surgery shortly thereafter and missed all of the organized team activity practices and the June minicamp.
Biegel understands that when it comes to Watt, Packers fans will compare and contrast their careers for years to come.
Watt was still on the board when the Packers went on the clock at No. 29 in the first round of the NFL’s draft in April, but general manager Ted Thompson chose instead to move back four spots in a trade with the Cleveland Browns. The Steelers took Watt at No. 30, and the Packers took Washington cornerback Kevin King at No. 33.
For their trouble, the Packers got a fourth-round pick, which they used to select Biegel.
“I think football players, we’re not patient people especially when it comes to injuries,” Biegel said. “We want to be out there as soon as we can. Every week and every day, the foot continues to get better, which is extremely encouraging. I know a lot of fans want to get me out here as soon as we can, but we’ve got to be patient not just for this season but for many seasons to come.
“We’ll be out there shortly.”
Biegel insisted that his foot is “100 percent structurally healed,” but the issue is “getting my spring back, getting that ‘pop’ back in the foot.” That has yet to happen, so the Wisconsin Rapids native had to miss the Aug. 5 Family Night practice and last week’s preseason opener against Philadelphia at Lambeau Field.
When he’s not working with the medical staff or in team meetings or position meetings with his fellow linebackers, Biegel is spending extra time with his iPad playbook, convinced that he has to hold himself to a higher standard for understanding defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ scheme than his fellow rookies because he hasn’t had the physical on-field work the rest of his teammates have endured.
Asked if he believes Biegel will be able to hit the ground running when he is activated off the PUP list, linebackers coach Winston Moss replied, “I would like to say that. I think that he’s that type of guy, but until he’s put in that situation, you’re never going to know. So we’ll just have to wait and see. We’ll have to wait until the trainers clear him, and we get him on the practice field.
“I’m anxious to see what he looks like. I’m (champing at the bit) to see what he can do as well. His boy over there in Pittsburgh got a couple sacks. So I’m sure he’s going to tally that, and I’m sure they’re going to have a mutual rivalry going on. But it’s all good. I think that he’s been waiting his time patiently — more patiently that I would’ve anticipated with him doing.
“In the rookie orientation early on before he banged his foot up, you could just tell this guy was 100 miles per hour. We are definitely going to have to manage him and manage what he does, but like I said I’m excited to see what he can do when he gets the chance.”