FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – First-year New England Patriots defensive tackle Markus Kuhn walked out of the tunnel to greet the assembled media at Gillette Stadium with a smile. As he settled in place, one reporter said, “Wilkommen.”
The German-born Kuhn smiled.
“Not bad. Did you talk to Sea Bass before?” he said.
Sea Bass, of course, is German-born Patriots right tackle Sebastian Vollmer.
This is one of the NFL’s unique stories of the offseason, Kuhn and Vollmer becoming teammates. Last year, they were two of just five German-born players on an NFL roster, joining Bjoern Werner (Colts, now Jaguars), Kasim Edebali (Saints) and Mark Nzeocha (Cowboys).
The ranks have grown in 2016 with wide receiver Moritz Bohringer drafted in the sixth round by the Minnesota Vikings. Bohringer will become the first player to reach the NFL straight from Europe (he started playing in 2013 and was with the Schwabisch Hall Unicorns of the German Football League).
DT Markus Kuhn, who signed with the Patriots after four years with the Giants, is enjoying his time in New England. pic.twitter.com/Le4Xa5Qw0i— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) May 17, 2016
“I’m just happy for the football and the guys in Germany; there’s a bigger market coming over from Germany and more and more guys all over the globe are interested in the sport and getting better at it,” Kuhn said Tuesday, when asked what it means to him to be part of a growing fraternity. “Now even having a guy straight out of Germany being drafted, I think that’s a huge accomplishment and it just shows where the sport is going.”
The 6-foot-4, 303-pound Kuhn entered the NFL in 2012 as a seventh-round draft choice of the New York Giants following his college career at NC State. He will compete for a roster spot in New England after signing a one-year contract with a maximum value of $1.5 million, joining Malcolm Brown, Alan Branch, Terrance Knighton and rookie Vincent Valentine, among others.
Photo: Patriots OT Sebastian Vollmer says to have "2 Germans on 1 team is really cool." (Vollmer and Markus Kuhn) pic.twitter.com/pXgMsWu4gU— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) May 17, 2016
Meanwhile, there’s no such uncertainty with Vollmer, who returns for his eighth NFL season (all in New England) and repeated multiple times Tuesday that 2016 is a fresh slate for everyone.
The 6-foot-4, 303-pound Kuhn, who grew up playing soccer in Germany but credits NFL Europe for sparking his career in football, spoke with reverence about Vollmer.
“From all the Germans in the league, he’s been in the longest, he’s won a Super Bowl, he’s been a very, very good player here,” he said. “That’s something to look up to about any player, especially someone who was the first German to be drafted in the NFL.”
The two first met in the 2012 preseason, when the Patriots played the Giants in the preseason finale. Then when Kuhn, 30, signed in New England in April, the 31-year-old Vollmer personally welcomed him, which including taking him to dinner.
Their shared background was an obvious storyline Tuesday as they met reporters during a break in the team's offseason program. So, too, was the possibility of the NFL playing a regular-season game in Germany, maybe as early as 2017, which Vollmer would naturally welcome.
“I think there is a great fan base out there,” he said. “From what I remember, it’s a while ago, Germany was probably one of the bigger countries over there that got excited for football. The last experience was great and the game sold out real quick and people were excited about it. I’m not sure everyone really understood the rules -- the punter got a lot of cheers every time he kicked the ball -- but I think it’s going to be a great thing. It helps the league grow and for the fans over there – my parents and my friends who are there – them being able to go to a game would be special.”