PHILADELPHIA - A new Green Bay Packers folk hero might be in its infancy.
Aaron Ripkowski isn’t yet a household name. And his name certainly doesn’t ring the same as John Kuhn, his predecessor.
Call him Rip. Call him the Ripper. Perhaps even the Big Ripkowski. It'll be hard to replace the "Kuuuuuuuuhn!" call.
But the second-year fullback is providing familiar reliability, delivering familiar hard hits as a ballcarrier, and after Monday night starting to show a familiar nose for the end zone.
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Ripkowski scored his first career touchdown on a 1-yard rumble in the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles, helping seal a 27-13 win. He split blocks from left tackle David Bakhtiari and left guard Lane Taylor.
“Just saw a small gap there,” Ripkowski said. “The guys got some push — some really good push — and I ran behind those offensive linemen. They blocked it up perfectly.”
Perfect was the celebration that followed.
In the end zone, Ripkowski didn’t mess around. With receiver Randall Cobb, tight end Richard Rodgers and right tackle Bryan Bulaga in his ear, the fullback unleashed a vicious, tomahawk spike that would have made New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski proud.
“They actually told me to do that,” Ripkowski said. “It wasn’t my idea. … Somebody was saying, ‘Spike it! Spike it!’ So why not get them excited?”
Ripkowski has the Packers plenty excited near the end of his first full season as a starter. Though his snap count fluctuates, as with any fullback in today’s league, Ripkowski has proven general manager Ted Thompson wise for turning the page on the Kuhn era.
Two of the Packers’ three best offensive showings this season have coincided with Ripkowski’s two highest snap counts. He played 25 snaps (35 percent) Monday night at the Philadelphia Eagles, highlighted with two catches for 15 yards. He had 32 snaps (52 percent) last month when the Packers scored 33 points at the Atlanta Falcons.
“I think he’s talented,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “He deserves to be out on the field. He’s made a number of plays for us. He does a good job on checkdowns, he does a good job running the ball, he’s a tough dude. And he’s earned the right to be out there, I think, as much as possible.”
It’s a tough balancing act, Rodgers said, because increasing Ripkowski’s snaps most often means limiting tight end Jared Cook’s playing time. A week after catching six passes for 105 yards at Washington, Cook had one catch and 7 yards in Philadelphia. His snap count diminished from 62 percent to 46 percent against the Eagles.
Ripkowski played just 14 snaps (21 percent) in Washington. Against the Eagles, coach Mike McCarthy called for more 20 personnel, which is two running backs, three receivers and no tight ends.
But Rodgers said his new fullback has earned the chance to play more.
“He’s been playing really good for us,” Rodgers said. “I’m proud of his approach. In a week like last week when he plays less than 10 snaps, and obviously this week he played a number of snaps, his approach was the same both weeks. It says a lot about his character.”
Ripkowski’s rushing touchdown was the first for a Packers running back this season. It’s a fitting distinction. With Eddie Lacy on injured reserve and James Starks missing a month because of a knee surgery, Ripkowski has been the one consistent amid swirling inconsistencies in the Packers backfield.
Keep it up, and it won’t be long until Packers fans shower the same adulation once reserved for Kuhn.