GREEN BAY - “Slim” could block. Fred Taylor figured that out the first time the Pro Bowl running back ran behind Marcedes Lewis during a training-camp practice back in 2006.
Blocking for the Jacksonville Jaguars’ franchise player was serious business. The running game was the backbone of the offense, and if a tight end wasn’t willing and able to block, the Jaguars would find someone who was.
A first-round pick out of UCLA, Lewis earned the nickname “Slim” from Taylor because he was a bit gangly during his rookie season, but he proved up to the task blocking for the veteran running back in his first Oklahoma drill.
Afterward, Taylor had a message for the rookie tight end.
“He said, ‘You keep blocking like that, you’re going to be around for a very long time,’” recalled Lewis on Thursday. “I never looked back after that. I take pride in it, and there’s a premium for guys that can cancel out your best D-end or best linebacker.”
Twelve years later, Lewis is still around. Now 34, the 6-foot-6, 267-pound tight end is a veteran of 170 regular-season games and considers himself one of the last tried-and-true tight ends who can block and catch with equal dexterity.
There is one significant change Lewis is bracing for in Year 13. For the first time in his career, the former Pro Bowler is hanging his jersey in a new locker after signing with the Packers last Friday following a 12-year stint with the Jaguars.
Lewis didn’t intend on putting pen to paper when he first arrived in Green Bay for a visit, but encounters with quarterback Aaron Rodgers and tight end Jimmy Graham made the Packers an easy sell.
After meeting with General Manager Brian Gutekunst, Lewis was told the Packers wished to sign him before he left for his 5:30 p.m. flight home. The team got on the phone with Lewis’ agent and the veteran signed his contract around 5.
“The Packers were pretty persistent,” said Lewis, who weighed his options for two months after receiving his release from Jacksonville in March. “When I came down here, I didn’t expect to sign anything. I was just coming down here to get a feel. Once I saw Aaron and Jimmy, it was a no-brainer after that.”
Lewis has started 157 of his 170 career games, including all 16 regular-season contests during a 2017 season in which when he played nearly 80 percent of Jacksonville’s offensive snaps.
At the same time, the 13th-year veteran doesn’t mind sharing the spotlight with Graham and returning veteran Lance Kendricks. Lewis is excited about the possibilities and the potential mismatches the Packers could exploit with their complementary skill sets.
He isn’t alone.
“(He’s) been a prime-time player in this league,” said Head Coach Mike McCarthy of Lewis’ addition. “Was excited that he was available. I think it's a great fit for us and I look back over the years, and I don’t think we’ve had this much experience at the tight end position in my time here.”
While Lewis fully embraces the blocking responsibilities of his position - McCarthy said he can “block any defensive end in the league” - he still can make defenses pay if they sleep on him.
Baltimore made that mistake last year in London and Lewis torched the Ravens for four catches for 62 yards and three touchdowns in a 44-7 Jacksonville victory at Wembley Stadium.
If defenses zone-in on Graham, Lewis looks forward to feasting on overzealousness.
“I like the compliment, but at the same time I pride myself on being a really good all-around tight end, whatever it is that I’m called upon to do,” said Lewis when asked about the label of being a blocking tight end.
“Obviously, I’m a really good blocker but don’t get it mistaken. I didn’t come here to be a tackle. Learn the offense, accelerate this whole deal and be on the other side of Jimmy doing some good things. It’s gonna be trouble out there.”
Take a look at photos of players practicing during Week 2 of OTAs.
Lewis pays close attention to tight ends around the league and saw what happened when Jared Cook signed with the Packers in 2016 and the impact he made during Green Bay’s run to the NFC Championship Game. He now hopes both he and Graham can provide a similar jolt for the Packers and Rodgers, whom he played against during their days in what is now the Pac-12 Conference.
“I played against him when he was at Cal and I was at UCLA,” Lewis said. “I was like, ‘Man, I wish he would’ve come to UCLA.’ Whenever we would play them, it’s just like when you’re playing against a Tom Brady or you’re playing against one of the greats, you’re watching them in admiration on the sideline.
“I never thought it would be like this, (but I’m) definitely excited to be here and looking forward to the future.”