Notebook: Aaron Ripkowski gets unwelcome reminder of costly fumble

Ryan Wood
Packers News
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Green Bay Packers fullback Aaron Ripkowski (22) fumbles the ball after Atlanta Falcons cornerback Jalen Collins forced the ball free during second quarter during the NFC championship game Sunday, January 22, 2017, at the Georgia Dome.

GREEN BAY – With the NFC championship game fresh in the minds of 63,000 fans in the Lambeau Field stands Saturday night, it was a bad time for Green Bay Packers fullback Aaron Ripkowski to have his first fumble of camp.

Because fumbles have not been an issue for Ripkowski this offseason. Granted, he’s a fullback, and Packers practices aren’t filled with fullback handoffs. But before Saturday night, Ripkowski had put his fumble last January behind him.

Then defensive lineman Kenny Clark shot a gap. Clark was a couple yards in the backfield by the time Ripkowski took the handoff from quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He appeared to rip the football away, with Clay Matthews scooping it up and running some 40 yards, but it was unclear if Ripkowski ever had firm possession.

“We’ll assess the film,” Ripkowski said.

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Ripkowski assessed the film earlier this offseason. He turned on tape of the NFC title game in Atlanta, played his first-quarter run over and over again, analyzing how he fumbled at the 10-yard line.

Six yards past the line of scrimmage, Ripkowski had a head-on collision with Atlanta Falcons safety Ricardo Allen. Ripkowski won that battle. He carried Allen on his right side for seven yards, but Allen didn’t give up on the play.

As three more Falcons swarmed, Allen grabbed at Ripkowski’s right arm. Ripkowski’s right arm was his “double-wrapped arm,” providing extra security. Cornerback Jalen Collins was credited with the forced fumble, but Allen made the play.

With only one arm on the football, it was ripe to be stripped.

“You bring one arm across to secure it,” Ripkowski said, “and I had one guy pulling it down. I need to be smarter in that moment. That’s typically a play, if you feel your arm get away, just go down.”

Ripkowski won’t soon forget the fumble that counted. He didn’t need another reminder Saturday, but he got one anyway.

“It’s just being conscious of it,” Ripkowski said. “Making sure you stay true to your fundamentals. Coaches are always coaching up fundamentals of ball security, and a major thing on that is just to be conscious of it.”

Not so fast: When it comes to tight ends, almost all of the attention from fans and reporters has been showered on Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks, the two new arrivals during the offseason. Both players figure to have significant roles in coach Mike McCarthy's offense this season, and their skill sets are different than any other tight ends on the 90-man roster.

The forgotten man is Richard Rodgers, a starter in 2015 and backup to Jared Cook last season. Rodgers is not the tallest of the three, nor is he the fastest. He is not the best blocker, nor is he the most versatile.

Rodgers, now in his fourth year, is a wide-bodied tight end with great hands. He does little to wow observers, but the consistency is usually there.

"We’re just trying to execute plays out there," Rodgers said. "Like I’ve said a million times, when the quarterback throws it to me I just try to catch it."

And that's what Rodgers did Saturday at the Packers' annual practice at Lambeau Field. Rodgers caught a deep touchdown pass from quarterback Brett Hundley during team reps by exploiting what looked like a broken coverage and bolting down the middle of the field. He nearly had an identical touchdown several periods later, but the ball was tipped away at the last minute by inside linebacker Cody Heiman.

Then, during another team period, Rodgers made a nice catch over the middle with linebacker Derrick Mathews in coverage.

"Richie has been making a lot of plays out there for us," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said last week. "So the three of them really give us a lot of versatility out there, and they all have a similar approach, a very intelligent view of their responsibilities."

Added Richard Rodgers: "I just think the main thing is we’re trying to win a Super Bowl. Whatever all of us can do to do that in our room, we’re going to try and do it. That’s the most important thing."

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