GREEN BAY – Ben Sirmans wants to see the rest of Aaron Ripkowski.
He wants to see him in pads. The Packers’ new running backs coach hasn’t seen it yet, at least not live. Sirmans needs to see the physical game of the Packers’ current No. 1 fullback to validate everything he believes about the mental side of Ripkowski’s abilities.
While veteran John Kuhn still remains an option to bring back for training camp or somewhere down the line, Ripkowski has been the main man at fullback thus far in 2016. But the development and evaluation are just getting started.
Sirmans is eager to witness the second-year Oklahoma product drop his pads, deliver a block and pick up a blitz with a knowledge of the offense that is now well beyond last year’s rookie level. He needs to see the complete picture in Ripkowski’s second season.
“He’s really shown from a mental standpoint, it’s something he’s ready to handle,” Sirmans said of the fullback’s multiple responsibilities. “Sometimes those guys have to be some of the smartest guys on your offense in understanding protections, who they have on runs, adjustments.”
Kuhn was one of those smartest guys. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers often said so. The two were like clockwork in the offensive backfield when it came to pre-snap reads and declarations, and Kuhn chipped in 30 touchdowns over the past nine years (19 rushing, 11 receiving, including playoffs) in goal-line work.
That’s a lot to live up to for Ripkowski, the 2015 sixth-round pick, but if it’ll help, he should know Rodgers is not asking him to replace Kuhn.
“I just need ‘Rip’ to be ‘Rip,’” Rodgers said. “Just bring the energy he brings.”
Rodgers also complimented Ripkowski on his blocking and his “physicality” when asked about him this spring. The two-time MVP sounded as confident in Ripkowski’s physical skills as Sirmans on the mental aspects, so something good could be brewing here.
To his credit, Ripkowski said Kuhn’s absence hasn’t changed how he goes about his job. While he misses having Kuhn around to answer his questions, it’s challenged him to find other ways to stay on top of everything. He still watches tape of how Kuhn did things.
He also knows no one is crowning him a starter in June, and the relationship he develops with Rodgers and the rest of the offensive veterans will be based, first and foremost, on what the film shows.
“You just have to show up and work every day,” Ripkowski said. “You have to earn those older vets’ respect by making plays. That’s really all it’s about is helping win games, not just being a guy hanging out, but doing something productive.”
Ripkowski didn’t get much chance to do that last year, touching the ball just once from scrimmage, though he did make the most of it by running over a Carolina defender for an 18-yard reception.
He established a bigger presence on special teams, topping all Green Bay rookies with nine coverage tackles and throwing several key blocks on returns.
Having not played much on special teams in college, Ripkowski has proven to be a quick study of that phase in the NFL, which requires more discipline than meets the eye.
“It’s really a lot of hustle and attention to detail,” Ripkowski said. “You can’t try and be a hero every play and run out of your gap. You really have to stay in tune with what everybody else is doing. You can’t just run in there like a kamikaze.”
No, but the key is to look like one because the knowledge of the scheme is so complete the physical traits can be unleashed at full force. On offense, that means leading the way into the hole with everything he’s got, or holding his ground against a free blitzer (and maybe even deliver a blow rather than take one), with no worry of a missed assignment.
That would equate to “Rip” being “Rip,” in Rodgers’ eyes, and what Sirmans is waiting to see, for it to all come together when Ripkowski returns for training camp.
“We really won’t know until we put the pads on and start hitting, but so far I feel pretty confident,” Sirmans said. “I already know he’s a hard worker, so when he comes back I expect him to be right on point with everything.”