Roles and respect form perfect tandem for Packers' offense in Marcedes Lewis, Robert Tonyan

Veteran tight ends, at different points in their NFL journey, have same goal for 2021

TE Robert Tonyan & Marcedes Lewis

GREEN BAY – There's something poetic about the fact neither Marcedes Lewis nor Robert Tonyan arrived in Green Bay as a marquee free-agent signing or top draft pick.

In 2018, the acquisition of Lewis went mostly under the radar during an eventful offseason in which the Packers also signed Jimmy Graham, Tramon Williams and Muhammad Wilkerson.

Months earlier, Tonyan's signing was even more nondescript. After a successful tryout, the former Indiana State quarterback-turned-receiver joined the Packers as a late-season addition to the team's practice squad in 2017.

Yet, the two tight ends – at different points in their NFL journeys – have converged at the right time and provided a perfect one-two punch for Matt LaFleur's burgeoning offense.

"They're two really good players," said LaFleur before practice on Monday. "It's so cool when I'm watching Marcedes coaching Bobby up on certain things. Bobby's grown as much as anybody in our time here just as a complete player. I think there's more out there for him, so I'm excited for the season that's ahead of us."

Lewis, who turned 37 in May, has seen it all during his 217 regular-season games over 15 NFL seasons. To last, however, the 6-foot-6, 267-pound tight end has needed to constantly evolve his game.

While Lewis's size and pass-catching abilities made him a first-round pick in 2006 and a Pro Bowler in 2010, his blocking prowess, durability and veteran leadership are what have enabled Lewis to outlast nearly everyone from his draft class.

It's a role Lewis has learned to embrace. He takes as much pride tutoring Tonyan or paving the way for Pro Bowl running back Aaron Jones as catching a touchdown. He does have four scores in a Packers uniform, though, to go along with his 28 catches for 302 yards.

"I feel like I'm a secret weapon, just in case," Lewis said. "It's team-first for me. If I have to put a guy on his neck so '33' can score a touchdown, then I'm going to put that dude on his neck so Aaron Jones can get in the end zone. If they need me to catch a fade in the back of the end zone, I'll do that.

"Whatever it is, I think that's my role and I own that and I'll be the best at that."

Lewis' humble approach at this stage of his career can make it easy to forget the full breadth of his resume. He recently was over at Davante Adams' house and the two were watching some of Lewis' old cutups from his time in Jacksonville.

To this day, Lewis holds several records for tight ends in the Jaguars' franchise annals. He also caught 58 passes for 700 yards and 10 TDs en route to the Pro Bowl in 2010.

"(Adams) was like, 'Bro, it's crazy. I feel like some of the dudes on the team don't even know you really used to get it in like that,'" Lewis recalled. "I'm like, 'Yeah, that's when I was in my prime.' He was like, 'Nah, you're just in a different prime now.' That meant a lot coming from him, because we share a similar mindset as far as how we work and how we're going to attack today."

Tonyan, on the other hand, has gone from a feelgood developmental prospect to a Pro Bowl-caliber tight end. He set career highs across the board last season with 52 receptions for 586 yards and 11 touchdowns. Tonyan did so without dropping a pass all season, according to Pro Football Focus.

The 6-foot-5, 237-pound tight end likes to credit his success to time spent with Lewis, Graham and position coach Justin Outten, but he's also been tenacious about finding ways to improve – even if it means using finger bands in the meeting room to strengthen his hands.

Tonyan and close friend George Kittle took things to another level this offseason with "Tight End University," a weekend retreat with some tight ends, past and present, sharing their experiences. Lewis attended and spoke at the event, as well.

"It was just very beneficial to get around guys, like their mental (approach), and just seeing them in the classroom and their mentality in certain things and how they view defenses or view themselves," Tonyan said.

"Guys such as Travis Kelce and Greg Olsen and Darren Waller and just see their work, and what they put in and just try to take as much from them as possible, and just kind of be a sponge. Like I always say, just kind of be a sponge and learn."

Over the past three years, Lewis and Tonyan have developed a close friendship centered on mutual respect. When he opted to return in 2020, Lewis texted Tonyan telling the young tight end he was one of the reasons he wanted to come back.

Fittingly, Tonyan's breakthrough season made for one of the most gratifying moments of Lewis' career. Now, the two continue their chase for the Super Bowl championship that's eluded Lewis for the past 15 years.

While Lewis admits there comes a time in every player's career when one's athletic ability begins to taper, there are certain attributes that never cease. Lewis won't let them.

"You can't teach my size, you can't teach what I've got in between my ears and you can't teach this," said Lewis, pointing to his heart. "I bring all that together plus my technique and I'm pretty hard to beat.

"That's what I instill in my tight end room. That's all me and Bobby talk about – the attitude, the grit, the will."

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