While he doesn’t draw the headlines of San Diego’s Shawne Merriman, and isn’t an NFL ambassador like Miami’s Jason Taylor, Aaron Kampman is happy in the shadows putting up bigger numbers.
He stopped trying to listen to any buzz associated with his name long ago. Now, he’s focused on winning, even after 23 1/2 sacks since 2006, one more than linebacker Merriman and six more than Taylor, a fellow defensive end.
But Kampman may not be able to go unnoticed too much longer. He’s already a Pro Bowler for last year’s effort, and got another accolade on Thursday when he was named the NFC’s defensive player of the month.
Put him in a suit, and he’s a no-nonsense businessman. When he talks about his holistic approach, he could be a professor. Instead, he’s become one of the most consistent defensive forces in the NFL.
“I had a coach tell me one time the mark of a champion is consistency. The people I’ve watched around the league and in this locker room that have had success seem to have that trait,” Kampman said. “Successful people in life, I look at my father, anybody. Consistency is huge.”
For the first four years, Kampman, a fifth-round pick out of Iowa in 2002, was tabbed as a “blue-collar guy” and someone who’s work ethic propelled him.
“It’s been well-documented my first couple of years. … He’s supposed to work hard. He’s supposed to play hard,” Kampman said. “Those are labels, you know what I mean? What I really learned, this was going into my third year, my second year, I really learned that I couldn’t focus on that because it was annoying.”
Worse, it undermines his talent.
“When you’re not a No. 1 pick, maybe that’s how they identify you because of where he started,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “But anybody that’s played against him, or anybody that’s been around him, I’ve been around him now for a year and a half, he’s a Pro Bowl football player. He’s very consistent. He brings the same energy every day, and he doesn’t really have a weakness in his game.”
Kampman had yet another milestone game in Denver when Green Bay beat the Broncos 19-13 in overtime on Monday night. Kampman recorded three sacks, four hurries and six tackles. It was the fourth time he’s had at least three sacks in a game.
“It’s hard to get sacks, but having said that, pressures, batted balls, quarterback hits are all very, very important,” Kampman said. “Making that quarterback reset, not get a completion, that’s the key. You get a negative yardage play, that’s just an added bonus.”
Kampman wears No. 74, a number typically reserved for offensive line and not someone running around them. It was randomly assigned ( “My college number is 54 …so I guess they figured we’ll give him a 4”), but instead of switching, he kept it as his personal reminder.
“I thought about it and I was like, ‘Why would I want to do that, that’s not how I came here,”‘ he said. “It reminds me of the fact, you know what I mean, how I started, how I progressed. That’s my number, that’s who I am.”
Kampman didn’t receive an invitation to the NFL scouting combine, and the elementary education major was student teaching when he had a workout at Iowa, running the 40-yard dash at 4.65.
He said he was reminiscing with Packers scout Lenny McGill, who timed him that day, earlier this week. After the draft, he went to Lambeau Field and had a positional meeting with then-defensive line coach Jethro Franklin.
Kampman said Franklin asked him if he knew why he’d been picked.
“I gave some long litany of ‘Well, I try to work hard, and play this way…’ He said, ‘No, because you ran a fast 40.”‘
Kampman started six games that season, then started 10 the next year before becoming a full-time starter in 2004. He said this year’s version of the Packers, now 6-1, have dozens of players who have developed the same way.
In fact, 32 of the current 53-man roster were selected no earlier than the fifth round, or not at all.
“The one thing that I’ve seen is we have a lot of late-round picks in this locker room, guys that have kind of come up and had to earn it,” Kampman said. “There’s something to that.”
Still, when Kampman re-signed with Green Bay, critics decried it as too much money for a guy who’d done so little. Before last season, he signed a four-year deal worth $21 million despite only having 132 career sacks to that point.
Instead of regressing after the big payday, he went out and made the Pro Bowl with an NFC-best 152 sacks in 2006, and he’s kept up the pace this season with eight sacks in seven games.
As humble as Kampman is, he’s also human, saying it’s hard to avoid a “Told You So” mentality.
“I fight that. I don’t want that. Because that to me is a wrong focus, a wrong motive,” Kampman said. “External things, they can’t affect you.”