Marcedes Lewis feels a different vibe with 2019 Packers

Veteran tight end remade his body for 14th NFL season

TE Marcedes Lewis
TE Marcedes Lewis

GREEN BAY – Marcedes Lewis did a lot of soul-searching over the past two years.

It started last offseason when the former Pro Bowl tight end had to decide whether he still wanted to play football after the only team he'd ever played for, the Jacksonville Jaguars, released Lewis after 170 games over 12 NFL seasons.

The phone rang almost immediately and the Packers were by far the most persistent suitor. Lewis did his research. He liked how Jimmy Graham was in Green Bay and was left with a positive impression after speaking with quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Lauded for his blocking, Lewis' role didn't veer much beyond that for the Packers in 2018. The 6-foot-6, 267-pound tight end added only three catches for 39 yards to his career totals and played only 191 offensive snaps.

Again, with his career at a crossroads, the 35-year-old tight end spoke with General Manager Brian Gutekunst once Green Bay's 6-9-1 season was over. Should Lewis return, Gutekunst assured him things would be different under Head Coach Matt LaFleur.

"Getting here and not having a plan last year for me, it was different," Lewis said. "My mind was in a different place. I met with Gutey at the end of last year and Gutey was saying, 'Hey, it's going to be totally different. We need you as one of the leaders and your role is going to be different.'"

Lewis re-signed in March, confident in the direction the Packers' offense was headed after former Jacksonville offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett was hired by LaFleur in the same position.

Meanwhile, the 14th-year veteran took a long look in the mirror, as well. Lewis wanted to make changes after finishing last season around 275 pounds, near his heaviest playing weight in 2008 and approximately 20 pounds heavier than during his Pro Bowl season in 2010.

In LaFleur's offense, there wasn't a reason for Lewis to play that heavy. "Automatically," Lewis knew he "had to do things totally different." His goal was to not worry so much about his game-day weight but focus more on what he was walking around at.

The Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears kicked off the NFL's 100th season at Soldier Field.

Lewis, working out back home in California, ramped up the mixed martial arts training he's been doing for the last seven years, swam more and increased how much he ran. He reported back at around 266 pounds.

This summer, he felt more explosive than last year in both his routes and getting out of his stance. Rodgers, one of Lewis' biggest advocates to return, has also taken notice.

"He's really transformed his body, I think," said Rodgers at the end of training camp. "He looks leaner, stronger and he's running well. I really give him a lot of credit for an older guy to come back in the shape he did. He put a hell of a lot of work in. He's going to be an important part of our squad and our locker room with his leadership."

The LaFleur offense has lived up to his "tight-end friendly" billing, with the Packers' 10-3 win over Chicago last Thursday providing a glimpse of what the team hopes to accomplish with the position this season.

Graham (35 snaps), Lewis (34 snaps) and Robert Tonyan (20 snaps) all played extensively, with LaFleur calling several plays with two tight ends. The trio combined for six catches for 72 yards a touchdown.

In addition to seeing his most in-game action in a Packers' uniform, Lewis caught two passes for 14 yards and nearly hauled in a spinning sideline grab in the fourth quarter that would have tied his entire 2018 catch total.

"Me, Jimmy and Rob, we're going to have meaningful reps," Lewis said. "Nobody's going to be burned into the ground. I'm the true 'Y,' Jimmy's the 'F' move-around-guy, Rob is going to be the package guy that comes in for Jimmy when he needs a spell. We're all interchangeable."

Lewis isn't the type to draw negative attention. He wasn't during some lean years in Jacksonville, so he's definitely not in Green Bay even if it was frustrating not getting the snaps and touches he'd grown accustomed to.

After filling his role last season, Lewis already senses a different feel this year. The veteran is energized not only by what he's seen from this year's team, but also the vibe in the locker room. While the second-oldest player on Green Bay's roster, Lewis remains hungrier than ever to contribute.

"I'm 35 man so it takes a grown mindset to be able to do it," Lewis said. "But with the guys we have in this locker room and specifically the tight end room, with my coach involved, it gives me a little more boost to want to come in here to work every day and do what I need to do to be accountable when my number is called."

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