GREEN BAY – In the midst of the pre-draft process, Brian Gutekunst brought a name to Matt LaFleur of an intriguing prospect the Packers general manager wanted the head coach to look into as a potential fit in the offense.
Josiah Deguara, a do-it-all tight end out of Cincinnati.
"He said, 'Hey, why don't you check out this guy?'" recalled LaFleur of his conversation with Gutekunst. "Then, we did some digging."
LaFleur had deep connections to the Bearcats' program. Deguara's position coach, Mike Denbrock, was a longtime family friend who served on the same coaching staff as LaFleur at Notre Dame in 2014.
And the more LaFleur dug into Deguara's background, the more he liked what he saw. The 6-foot-2, 238-pound tight end's versatility, intelligence and athleticism were off the charts.
Deguara, the Packers' third-round pick this past April, flashed all of those traits in his first NFL start during Sunday's 43-34 win over Minnesota. Deguara was featured heavily in an H-back and move tight end role and did a little bit of everything in an array of multiple-tight end packages against the Vikings.
Deguara took out not one, but two Vikings defenders (Mike Hughes and Pro Bowler Anthony Harris), on a lead block in space on Allen Allen Lazard's 19-yard run off an end-around near the end of the first quarter.
Deguara also proved reliable in pass protection, picking up a blitzing linebacker to give quarterback Aaron Rodgers enough time to find Davante Adams across the middle for a 14-yard catch in the second quarter.
And he even caught his first NFL pass out of the backfield before halftime, picking up 12 yards on a short throw to the flat. All told, Deguara saw 24 offensive snaps in his debut and played an important part in the Packers establishing early momentum.
"Whenever I'm given an opportunity, I'm going to try to take advantage of it and do my job to the best of my abilities," Deguara said. "Every time I was in there, whether it was pass protection, going out on routes, lead blocking for the running back, I'm going to do what I do and just go out there and play ball, and take advantage of the opportunities I'm given."
Deguara doesn't fancy himself as the most intelligent guy in the room. With a self-deprecating laugh, he admits he's not even the smartest sibling in his family. That title belongs to his sister who just graduated with her nursing degree in three years.
Yet, despite an abbreviated camp, Deguara proved to LaFleur and his coaches the NFL game wasn't going to be too big for the rookie in Year 1. Understanding what was going to be asked of him, Deguara worked closely with tight ends coach Justin Outten to improve his run blocking and pass protection.
Deguara laughs while admitting having no fans in attendance at U.S. Bank Stadium Sunday helped him get comfortable early. But no matter what the circumstances were or how much was asked of him, the rookie tight end was going to be ready.
Deguara has had that same mentality since he reported for training camp at the end of July.
"I think my mindset going into it wasn't how much they were going to put on my plate, but whatever they decided to want me to learn that I went at it with all I had," Deguara said. "I look at it as that's my job and that's what I'm supposed to be doing and that's why I'm out there.
"The more I'm able to do, the more I'm able to get on the field, that's what I want to do. Hopefully, make plays for the team."
LaFleur made it clear this offseason he wanted to feature tight ends more prominently in his offense this year and Sunday's win over Minnesota reflected that emphasis.
Robert Tonyan (48 snaps), veteran Marcedes Lewis (32), Deguara (24) and Jace Sternberger (12) combined to play 116 offensive snaps against the Vikings, the most for the position group so far in LaFleur's 20 games as Green Bay's head coach.
LaFleur cautions that it's only one game and there's still a long way to go. But in his NFL debut, Deguara did not disappoint.
"Certainly, he fits with what we want to do," LaFleur said. "He did an outstanding job and to be honest with you, we had a lot on his plate going into this game.
"I think he's proven himself throughout the course of training camp that he can handle a decent amount of responsibility. The hope is that we can build on this."