At 32 years old, Green Bay Packers fullback John Kuhn knows time isn’t on his side.
So, he’s taking a realistic view of his upcoming battle with sixth-round rookie Aaron Ripkowski.
“When I came into the league, it was kind of a pay-it-forward kind of thing,” Kuhn said after Wednesday’s organized team activity. “Dan Kreider with the Pittsburgh Steelers kind of showed me the ropes that he knew how to play and the fullback position as he saw it.”
When Kuhn entered the NFL in 2005 as an undrafted rookie, Kreider was 28 and in his sixth season in the league. Kuhn didn’t stick in Pittsburgh for long — he played in nine games in 2006 and was released by the Steelers in training camp in 2007 — but he’s found a home in Green Bay by playing in all but five games over the past eight seasons.
“I'm just trying to do the same (as Kreider),” Kuhn said. “At some point in time, you have to help lead on some of the young guys and it's a special feeling to know that you can do that when somebody looks at you, respects you and takes to heart the things that you say. It means a lot and makes it easy to try to help them out.”
Ripkowski appreciates the helping hand from the two-time All-Pro and local folk hero.
Had he gone undrafted, Ripkowski said he probably would have signed with the Packers. Not only was he excited about the possibility of learning under running backs coach Sam Gash, a former Pro Bowl fullback, but Ripkowski said Kuhn was one of his favorite players as a high schooler in Dayton, Texas.
“It’s pretty nice to able to play with the guy and learn from the guy,” Ripkowski said.
As the second-oldest player on the roster, Kuhn realizes he’s closer to the end of his career than the start. As a free agent, he had to settle for his second consecutive one-year deal. Then, the Packers grabbed Ripkowski, who has been anointed “Kuhn Jr.” by his teammates. Behind Ripkowski’s lead blocking in 2014, Oklahoma ranked 12th in the nation with 3,395 rushing yards and fifth with 6.1 yards per carry. With that resume, the Packers drafted their first fullback since 2009, when they plucked Quinn Johnson in the fifth round. And, for the first time since 2011, Johnson’s third year in the league, there will be a legitimate battle at fullback.
“I think every time you get into an offseason, you try and be proactive and look at all the possibilities there can be around,” Kuhn said. “I think if you only expect the best, you’re fooling yourself. So you always have to anticipate every possibility. For myself, I just tried to prepare the same way I do every single offseason and trust and have faith it would all work itself out.”
Coming off his second Pro Bowl and second All-Pro season, Kuhn clearly isn’t finished. But the team, with a roster that ranks among the youngest in the league every season, clearly has an eye on the future, as well.
“I come into this season the same way I come into every single season,” Kuhn said. “I’ll be prepared physically. I’ll be prepared mentally. I’m ready to go. I’m ready to try to win a Super Bowl.”
There’s never been a doubt about Kuhn’s preparation. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has sung Kuhn’s praises for years. Outside of Rodgers, there probably isn’t a player on the roster who knows the playbook better than Kuhn, which is why he has played so many snaps as the third-down pass protector. No matter how talented Ripkowski is, that’s the mountain he must climb.
“With the playbook, you’re starting to pick it up a little quicker,” he said. “Of course, that slows the game down a little bit. But it’s not like you can stop and smell the roses and say, ‘Oh, I’m here. I made it.’ It’s not really a journey to your destination and you’re done. Every day, you’re trying to get better.”
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