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Countdown to Camp: Jimmy Graham's return provides options at tight end

Jace Sternberger and Robert Tonyan eager to learn from two of the best

TE Jimmy Graham
TE Jimmy Graham

This is the fourth in a series of stories examining the Packers' roster, position by position, leading up to training camp. The series continues with the tight ends.

GREEN BAY – The Packers enter training camp with a little bit of everything at tight end.

Six-time Pro Bowler Jimmy Graham and blocking aficionado Marcedes Lewis again are poised to lead the room, while Robert Tonyan and rookie Jace Sternberger represent two of the brightest prospects Green Bay has had at the position in years.

Graham was the Packers' second-leading receiver last season, catching 55 passes for 636 yards and two touchdowns, but still expressed some disappointment with how his first season in Green Bay played out.

Although knee and hand injuries hampered him throughout the year, Graham played all 16 games and quickly gained the trust of quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Even at 31, Graham's game-breaking ability was still evident in a 95-yard performance against Minnesota in Week 2 and 104-yard outing in a 33-30 win over San Francisco in Week 6.

The following is the fourth installment in a series of photos examining the Packers' roster position by position. This installment examines the tight ends.

With his knee and hand now healed, Graham hopes to make the same jump in Green Bay that he previously did during his second season in both New Orleans and Seattle.

He appears to be in just the scheme to do it. A full participant in the Packers' offseason program, the 6-foot-7, 265-pound tight end worked closely with both Head Coach Matt LaFleur and new position coach Justin Outten to fully absorb the system.

The Packers want to be multiple with their offensive playbook, integrating packages with one, two and sometimes three tight ends at a time.

Other than Rodgers, Lewis is the most veteran player on the Packers' roster. Currently, he's the only one of the team's 11 unrestricted free agents the Packers re-signed this offseason. Despite having only three catches for 39 yards, the 35-year-old tight end was a popular addition to the locker room and lauded for his blocking.

LaFleur said earlier this offseason the Packers hope to expand Lewis' role beyond blocking this year. In 13 NFL seasons, the 6-foot-6, 267-pounder has 378 catches for 4,541 yards and 33 TDs since entering the league as a first-round pick in 2006.

Tonyan, now in his second season, has been an understudy of sorts to Graham and Lewis. The former Indiana State receiver rose from relative obscurity to not only claim a roster spot last summer, but also play all 16 games for the Packers.

While mainly a fixture on the special-teams units, the 6-foot-5, 237-pound tight end made one of the biggest plays of the season for Green Bay's offense when he caught a 54-yard touchdown from Rodgers in Seattle on Nov. 15.

Tonyan, 25, continued his maturation this offseason, training with All-Pro tight end George Kittle in Nashville. With Lewis completing his degree this spring at UCLA, Tonyan stepped in with the first-team offense throughout the offseason program.

The selection of Sternberger in the third round of this year's NFL Draft was noteworthy on several fronts for the Packers, who hadn't drafted a tight end that early since 2014 (Richard Rodgers).

Sternberger played only one season at Texas A&M after transferring from Northeastern Oklahoma A&M but made his impact felt during his short time in College Station with 48 catches for 832 yards (17.3 yards per catch) and 10 touchdowns.

At 6-4, 251, Sternberger established himself as one of top tight ends in this year's draft after posting a 4.75-second time in the 40 and a 4.31 in the short shuttle at this year's NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

Practice-squad holdover Evan Baylis and Pharoah McKever round out the Packers' tight end depth chart. Signed by Green Bay during the final week of the regular season, the 6-foot-5, 250-pound Baylis spent time on practice squads in Houston, Indianapolis and Carolina during his first two NFL seasons.

McKever, a former teammate of Packers receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling at N.C. State, was claimed off waivers from Jacksonville on June 11.

McKever (6-6, 259) initially played receiver and defensive end for the Wolfpack before converting to tight end as a redshirt junior in 2016. He played at Florida International as a grad transfer in 2017, catching 27 passes for 301 yards and three touchdowns.


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