GREEN BAY – As the Packers enter the second half of their 2021 campaign, they'll do so without Robert Tonyan after the fourth-year tight end tore his anterior cruciate ligament during last Thursday's 24-21 win over the Arizona Cardinals.
Tonyan's injury leaves a major void in Green Bay's offense. His 70 catches for 790 yards and 13 touchdowns since the start of the 2020 season is production that won't be easily replaced.
The Packers have options at tight end. Veteran Marcedes Lewis is on pace for the most catches and receiving yards of his four seasons in Green Bay. Josiah Deguara and Dominique Dafney are both healthy, and Tyler Davis now has a full month under his belt in the offense.
Still, sticking with the mantra he's used all season, Head Coach Matt LaFleur isn't expecting one player, or even position group, to carry the weight of Tonyan's absence.
"We have a lot of confidence in (the tight ends) in that room, but also it doesn't necessarily have to come from that position," LaFleur said. "All our backs do a really good job out of the backfield. It could provide more targets for the wide receiving corps. So, we're going to have to get that production in other areas and we'll have to adjust to that."
It's a formula that's worked for Green Bay this season. Down their top three receivers against the Cardinals, the Packers leaned on the backfield of Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon to pace the offense.
With LaFleur aiming to get Jones and Dillon 30-plus carries going into the game, the duo responded with 137 rushing yards and a touchdown on 31 attempts. Jones also led Green Bay receiving with seven catches for 51 yards.
What's more, the Packers received some good news at receiver on Monday when Marquez Valdes-Scantling (injured reserve) and Allen Lazard (reserve/COVID-19 list) both returned to practice. LaFleur also mentioned there's a possibility Davante Adams could clear COVID-19 protocols this week.
While Lazard wouldn't necessarily be viewed as a replacement for Tonyan, the 6-foot-5, 227-pound receiver possesses a similar route tree. Tonyan and Lazard have been two of Rodgers' top targets in the middle of the field and down the seam this season.
Season-long injuries have required some schematic adjustments. Against the Cardinals, for example, veterans Randall Cobb and Equanimeous St. Brown plus rookie third-round pick Amari Rodgers all made their first starts of the season.
The Packers still found a way to 7-1 despite the injuries, to which LaFleur credits the locker room pulling together and the ingenuity of offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and Green Bay's coaching staff.
"You've got to do the best job you can. (I'm) thankful for the offensive staff that we have in terms of their ability to adjust," LaFleur said. "Hackett does such a great job of kind of rallying the troops up there, trying to put guys in the right position.
"I think that's just something we look at each game is how you want to attack whoever it is you're playing. Every game has different challenges in terms of how you think you can best move the football and score."
The versatility of the Packers' tight ends will be tested in the weeks and months ahead and perhaps no two players exemplify those ideals more than Deguara and Dafney, who already have filled a multitude of roles over the past year.
Dafney signed with Green Bay last October after Deguara tore his ACL in a Week 4 matchup with the Atlanta Falcons and wound up being the featured "F" tight end/H-back during the Packers' playoff run.
Dafney missed a month with a hip injury but played 14 snaps in his return against the Cardinals.
A third-round pick out of Cincinnati last year, Deguara became just the second Packers rookie tight end to start a regular-season opener since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger. He was off to a fast start, as well, before suffering the knee injury against Atlanta.
Deguara, who returned to practice on Aug. 12, knows more will be asked of him, Dafney and the rest of Green Bay's tight ends without Tonyan, and he embraces that challenge.
"That's what this game is, that's what the sport is. It's always next man up," said Deguara, who has played 101 offensive snaps in seven games this season. "We're going to do it for Bobby because he's a huge part of our room. We're going to miss him in there while he's gone but I know he's going to be there for us and still going to be with us when he can."
After going through ACL surgery and months of rehab himself, Deguara said he immediately reached out to Tonyan once his diagnosis was confirmed to tell him that he loved him an offer his support in the journey ahead.
While Tonyan turns his focus to recovery, the Packers' offense will look to finish what the budding tight end started this season.
"Bobby provided so much, and the thing that you really, truly appreciate about a guy like him is even when he wasn't getting the targets, he was still doing his job," LaFleur said.
"He attacks it the right way. And I know it's just a little blip on the radar for him. He'll be back. He'll be stronger. He'll be better."