GREEN BAY – Mike McCarthy suggested this past winter that veterans would play more roles on special teams than they have in the past.
That doesn’t mean the Packers aren’t still trying to develop the next young special teams dynamo.
Rookie fullback Aaron Ripkowski might be a candidate. The sixth-round draft pick from Oklahoma made his presence felt in the preseason opener last week at New England with two impressive open-field tackles on kickoff coverage.
His night wasn’t perfect, and as such a rookie is not likely to surge past proven special teamers like safety Sean Richardson and outside linebacker Jayrone Elliott in the pecking order anytime soon. But Ripkowski’s experience on return and coverage units in college and his apparent aptitude for it at this level make him worth watching as the Packers’ preseason continues Sunday in Pittsburgh.
“He’s a great attitude guy, great effort guy,” Special Teams Coordinator Ron Zook said. “You like to see these guys that can listen and make adjustments in the game. Things are going fast, and when they’re able to make adjustments, that means they’re clued in to what you’re trying to do.
“He made a couple really good plays, and he made a bad play, which you expect from a young guy, but I’m impressed with him.”
Zook added that Ripkowski has the fullback mentality to “seek contact,” and that plays well on special teams. On offense, he has a Pro Bowler in John Kuhn from whom to learn the lead-blocking and pass-protection responsibilities.
Given the apprenticeship developing and Ripkowski’s potential impact on special teams, it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Packers keep two fullbacks on the roster this year, as rare as that might be in today’s NFL.
“He’s a young, eager guy that’s obviously a sponge for information,” running backs coach Sam Gash said. “Having John give him help, in a sense counsel him through all of this, I don’t know if he realizes how much this is going to help his career, just having another guy in the room at the same position at the same time.
“He obviously has a lot of room to grow, but as a starting point, he’s a good guy to stay on his feet. He definitely can make good contact. I want to see him help the tailbacks be productive.”
More consistent play will be the expectation from here on out, and the same goes for the competition evolving at the back end of the wide receiver depth chart.
The top three are obvious, and rookie Ty Montgomery will be a fourth. That could leave only one more spot, unless the Packers keep six receivers, which is possible but by no means certain.
Heading into the final three preseason games, second-year pros Jeff Janis and Myles White lead the pack. Undrafted rookie and late arrival Ed Williams is maybe entering the conversation.
Last week, Janis scored his third preseason TD in two years, while White nearly had a big gainer down the sideline, only to have it knocked out of his hands at the last second as he fell to his backside.
The two possess different physiques and hence different styles of play. Janis (6-3, 219) has worked most on refining his route-running and technique, while White (6-0, 190) dedicated himself to the weight room to add a more physical aspect to his game.
“With Jeff, his size and strength are two things that stand out about him, and his long speed,” receivers coach Alex Van Pelt said. “Myles has the speed but maybe a little more quickness and change of direction because of the body type.
“Both bring something to the table. Both have played, they’re not rookies, so they’re more in tune to the system than some of the younger guys right now.”
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