GREEN BAY, Wis. – For the Green Bay Packers, the road to Super Bowl LVII in Glendale, Ariz., will begin this week with the start of offseason practices.
To be sure, nothing will be settled during two weeks of voluntary organized team activities, the mandatory minicamp, and one more week of OTAs. Still, what happens on the practice field will set the stage for the start of training camp in a little more than two months.
This series of positional previews continues with the tight ends.
The Sure Thing: Room of Role Players
The Packers don’t have a George Kittle or a Rob Gronkowski or a Travis Kelce. But they do have a bunch of specialists who, when combined, provide a top-flight position group.
Need someone to catch passes? Robert Tonyan was incredible in 2020, when he led all NFL tight ends in catch percentage, drop percentage, touchdowns and passer rating. Need someone to block? Few are better than venerable Marcedes Lewis. Need someone to play fullback? Josiah Deguara and Dominique Dafney can handle those duties.
“These guys work hard,” new tight ends coach John Dunn said. “It’s extremely impressive who they are as people and they’re personal character, their football character and the way they go about their business. They’re smart. They’ve been coached well in the past and they really do a nice job of attacking it. Where that goes? Ultimately, you have to earn that every day by playing the game.”
The Big Mystery: Robert Tonyan
Tonyan, who entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2017, is a one-year wonder. In 2020, he had a breakout season with 52 receptions for 586 yards and 11 touchdowns. Big things seemed to be in store last season following a dominant training camp.
However, he caught only 18 passes for 204 yards and two touchdowns in eight games. There were 11 incomplete targets, four more than in 2020. After a four-game stretch in which he caught 6-of-13 passes for 32 yards, Tonyan caught 4-of-5 passes for 63 yards and one touchdown vs. Washington and 3-of-4 passes for 49 yards vs. Arizona but suffered a torn ACL against the Cardinals.
When will Tonyan be back? Certainly not this weekend but perhaps for the start of training camp. And will the 2020 version of Tonyan emerge? When at full strength, Green Bay’s tight ends group is really good. But, as was painfully obvious last year, the Packers don’t have anyone remotely capable of replacing Tonyan’s production.
Worth Watching: Tyler Davis
Snatched off Indianapolis’ practice squad in late September, the 2020 sixth-round pick played in 14 games and caught 4-of-5 passes for 35 yards. The only tight end on the roster with something approximating Tonyan’s physical skill-set in terms of size and athleticism, he logged 88 of his 121 snaps during the final four regular-season games and 11 more in the playoffs.
As Tonyan recovers from his knee injury, Davis might be thrust into a big role during the offseason practices.
“T.D., we picked up early in the year and as his opportunities grew, not only in games but in practice, I think we might have something there. So, I’m excited about that,” general manager Brian Gutekunst said after not adding a tight end in the draft.
Interestingly, Tonyan started his collegiate career as a quarterback at Indiana State. Davis started his collegiate career as a quarterback at Connecticut. When he failed to win the starting job, then-coach Bob Diacco persuaded him to switch to tight end.
“He said: ‘Tyler, you’re too athletic to be holding a clipboard on the sidelines, we need to put you somewhere,’” Davis recalled after being drafted.
“So, he said what about TE, and at first, I was hesitant about it and I wasn’t sure how I felt about it since I was a QB my whole life. But I took it because I’m a team guy and I wanted to do what was best for the team. Ever since that day, I just worked as hard as I could to become the best tight end I could possibly be.”