By LORI NICKEL
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (TNS)
Green Bay Packers fullback John Kuhn (30) is a Dover High School graduate. He has a one-year contract with the Packers for the veteran minimum. (MICHAEL DWYER — The Associated Press)
GREEN BAY — Aaron Ripkowski’s proudest moment in college was actually someone else’s.
But isn’t that how life is for a fullback?
When Ripkowski blocked for Oklahoma teammate Samaje Perine last November against Kansas for a Football Bowl Subdivision record 427 yards, the plays of the game became seared in his memory — not because Ripkowski blew up a linebacker or leveled a giant, but because he was right where he was supposed to be while the running back made history.
“It’s about the team, not ‘look at me,’ not ‘look at what I have done,'” Ripkowski said. “It’s all about trying to help the guy next to you.”
But ever since Green Bay took him in the sixth round of this year’s NFL draft, Ripkowski, 22, has been receiving an assist from Dover High School graduate John Kuhn, the Packers’ longtime Pro Bowl fullback.
That’s the thing about the people who play this position. They’re more selfless than selfish.
And so that’s why, after a good preseason debut last week at New England, and an otherwise respectable training camp, Ripkowski is making a good first impression. But if Ripkowski continues to play better and better, he could potentially take snaps — and someday a job — away from the veteran stalwart.
He just can’t think about it. It’s too conflicting for a team-first guy.
“I just don’t even go there,” Ripkowski said. “Don’t try to bring feelings in to it. There’s too much to think about. There’s too many reads, and too much going on in the offense, that you don’t have to bring emotion into it.”
Emotion fuels Kuhn: Emotion fuels so much of the energy that comes from Kuhn, who will turn 33 next month. He has played in 123 games since 2007, more than any other offensive player on the Packers. His contract was extended in April for one year at the veteran’s minimum. He’s been a rock at the position, a riot on the sideline and an authority on the playbook. The undrafted free agent from Shippensburg has no reason to train a draft pick from Oklahoma, but he is.
“He’s been a great mentor,” Ripkowski said. “He’s sort of like a second coach. Sam Gash (Packers running back coach) tells me what to do. At the same time John is right there on my hip telling me exactly what to do.”
When Ripkowski arrived in Green Bay with the other rookies in May, he benefited from the gradual installations of playbook over several weeks.
“I wouldn’t call it extremely complicated,” Ripkowski said. “But there’s a lot of stuff — it’s our job.”
What he did get after right away was the pasta and the potatoes. At 238 pounds on his pro day, the 6-foot-1 Ripkowski was not big enough for blocking in the NFC’s black and blue division, so he’s been carbohydrate loading.
He now weighs 255, a gain of 17 pounds in about a half a year.
“I got up here and the coach was like, ‘no way, you’re a little too light’ — so I started eating,” Ripkowski said. “So that’s all I really do is just eat. My intake has gone up. A lot.”
The good news? Ripkowski doesn’t have to be as fast as running back Eddie Lacy, and he didn’t lose any speed with the added pounds.
“I still feel just as fast,” Ripkowski said. “If you’re moving just as fast and you have more weight, you have more pop behind a hit.”
Other duties: Ripkowski’s other duties are protecting quarterback Aaron Rodgers, especially his blind side, reading the defense and decoding the pressure. It’s not always easy for him, but the job hasn’t been too big yet either.
And he has shown an ability to be a good lead blocker.
“Rip’s a great guy, and a hard hitter, and a guy who is not afraid to put his hand in the dirt and really go out and hit somebody,” Packers center Corey Linsley said.
“He’s taken up the offense extremely well. We hear him day in and day out in meetings. Coach (Edgar) Bennett calls on him all the time. He rarely misses a question.”
Once again this season, special teams play will factor in to Green Bay’s final decisions on who makes the 53-man roster. Against New England, Ripkowski did well.
He crushed a Patriot on a kickoff and then he had two other solid tackles as well. He did miss one tackle but his debut was solid.
“What I would expect for a young guy,” said special teams coordinator Ron Zook said.
“Great attitude guy, great effort guy. He seeks contact. And on special teams, he has to be the kind of guy who does seek contact.”
That’s all Ripkowski ever did at Oklahoma, and he did get a few handoffs and receptions. Otherwise, he’s been a lineman on the move.
In Green Bay he hasn’t gotten any running back reps in the team portion of practice yet, but he has caught all of the few passes thrown his way.
What it all means? He’s not sure. He knows the NFL game doesn’t call for a fullback to block on every play. But at least in Green Bay the coaches value the position.
“I can’t show up every day thinking, ‘oh it’s going to be tough to get snaps,'” Ripkowski said. “You’ve got to show up, you’ve got to do what you’re told, do what you can — and everything you can — to get a niche and a spot.”