GREEN BAY – Prior to the draft, fullback Aaron Ripkowski made visits to just two NFL teams. One was Green Bay, and when Ripkowski left Lambeau Field, he was really hoping it wasn’t for the last time.
“I didn’t know it was draft-worthy, but I knew they were interested, and if it came down to free agency, this is the place I would have picked,” said Ripkowski, who also visited Denver.
“I was really excited I got the call to come here. This is the place I really had my heart set on.”
Ripkowski got that call on the draft’s final day, and the Packers chose him with the first of their three picks in the sixth round.
On paper, the 6-1, 246-pound Ripkowski looks like the second coming of John Kuhn. They’re similar in size (Kuhn is 6-0, 250), play a bunch of special teams, love to lead block and rarely get their hands on the ball unless it’s around the goal line.
Last season, Ripkowski touched the ball 13 times for Oklahoma (six rushes, seven receptions) but scored four touchdowns. That’s similar to the first year Kuhn started making a name for himself, back in 2008, when he had 12 touches (eight rushes, four receptions) and scored three times.
Ripkowski is aware of the comparisons and has admired Kuhn from afar, watching him in Packers games through high school and college. Now, the type of player he’s striving to become will be right in front of his eyes every day.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for the guy,” Ripkowski said. “He’s a big-time Pro Bowler and he’s played around here for a lot of years. Hopefully, I can learn something from him.”
The biggest gap Ripkowski must close is with his knowledge of Mike McCarthy’s offense. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has said many times Kuhn knows the offense almost better than he does.
Ripkowski just began learning it last weekend, and he’ll get a crash course through OTAs and training camp.
“He knows everything, every little detail,” Ripkowski said of Kuhn. “I hope to grasp that as well as he does.”
That could take a while, which could mean the Packers will strongly consider keeping both fullbacks on the 53-man roster when training camp concludes.
It would be an unusual move, considering a number of NFL teams don’t carry any fullbacks anymore, but it would make sense if Ripkowski can be part of the special-teams retooling the Packers and McCarthy have planned.
With an athletic, big body and youthful foot speed, Ripkowski could be a great fit on return and coverage units that appear to be headed for a number of personnel changes in 2015 under new coordinator Ron Zook.
“I would love to, actually. That’s how I got playing time at OU in college,” Ripkowski said. “I know this is a different level, but it’s the same sport and it’s the same steps. You have to get on special teams and make some plays there before you get in anywhere else.”
For now, Ripkowski is thrilled just to be in Green Bay, and with a draft pick’s four-year contract to boot. It’s all he could have asked for when he came through town the first time.
“I wouldn’t say I’ve taken a breath to stop and tried to think about it and smell the roses yet,” he said. “I want to make an impact before I do that.”