Green Bay Packers TE Robert Tonyan Making Progress but Still Not All the Way Back

The Green Bay Packers offense struggled badly last week against the New York Jets at Lambeau Field, but one bright spot was the play of tight end Robert Tonyan. Tonyan led all Packers receivers with 10 catches for 90 yards in a game where very little else worked for the offense. The 10 catches in a game are a career-best for Tonyan who had a previous career best of six catches in a game.

There are so many good signs for Tonyan in recent weeks. He leads the Packers with 27 catches on the season. More importantly, his catch percentage is back to a level that was close to his career-best 2020 catch percentage. In 2020, Tonyan caught an astounding 88.1 percent of the passes that were targeted to him according to Those are Pro Bowl numbers. In 2021, that number went down to 62.1 percent but this season, it’s back to 84.4 percent through six games.

His teammates are noticing the progress Tonyan has made this season. “I think he’s feeling better,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers told reporters a few days after the game against the Jets. “He’s feeling more confidence in his leg, and he’s got incredible hands…He catches the ball well with his hands and he’s just instinctual, as well. Makes some plays outside the framework sometimes of the construct of the offense. He’s always making the right reactions.”

The coaching staff has also noticed the improvement in Tonyan’s game. “Bobby’s done a nice job,” head coach Matt LaFleur said. “Every opportunity that he’s gotten, he’s been able to produce. He’s got to continue to keep going because I still think there’s still stuff that he’s getting back used to doing. But certainly, he’s delivered when given those opportunities.”

Tonyan is returning to form in many ways after suffering a season-ending knee injury last season against the Arizona Cardinals. That caused him to miss the second half of the 2021 campaign and he had to undergo a lengthy and difficult rehab process.

“Working back from an injury and all that and not playing in forever, it’s honestly feeling a full game of football again like that across the board, run game, pass game,” Tonyan explained. “And then obviously being successful in the pass game, personally, was definitely a confidence booster.”

The former Indiana State star realizes he is making progress but is not yet back to where he was before the injury. “Honestly, I feel good. There’s some things neurologically that I’ve just got to get past and get by and physically I’m just trying to get to feel as best I can every day. So, that’s going to vary on away games or surface or whatever. But that’s our sport, as well.”

There are reasons for Tonyan’s strong performance so far this year. One is he still has the good hands that helped make him successful during his breakout season two years ago. Second, Tonyan has the trust of his quarterback, something that many of the new receivers on this roster lack at this point in their careers.

Each week, Tonyan has been playing a bigger role in Matt LaFleur’s offense. After playing just 36 percent of the team’s offensive snaps in Week 1, he has seen the field more often and played in a season-high 63 percent of the Packers offensive plays against the Jets.

But there are still things that still need to get back to their pre-injury levels. Tonyan’s average yards per catch is a mere 8.1, nearly two yards per catch lower than his prior low average. His burst isn’t as strong as it was before the injury and he cannot yet stretch a defense like he did before he hurt his knee.

There are other reasons for this statistic besides Tonyan’s return from injury. The struggles of the offensive line to protect Rodgers has made it more difficult for any receiver to get open downfield and the offense in general has had problems completing long range passes this season.

Getting Tonyan back to being more of a downfield threat will be a big step forward for the Packers offense. He also hopes to build on the one touchdown pass he has through six games and become more of a consistent target in the red zone. But that will take more time. Right now, the progress Tonyan is making is encouraging and the team is optimistic the best is yet to come for Tonyan this season.

You can follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers

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Comments (6)

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LambeauPlain's picture

October 22, 2022 at 12:13 pm

From what doctors tell me, one of the key steps in ACL recovery is learning how to trust your knee. They say it is a large psychological barrier ACL patients have to overcome.

They also say, contrary to what I believed, the knee is rarely as good as before the tear. I thought ACL surgery can make the joint even stronger. They say no.

Hopefully Big Bob, Jenks, and Bakh will defy odds and return to form.

1 points
TarynsEyes's picture

October 22, 2022 at 12:29 pm

“one of the key steps in ACL recovery is learning how to trust your knee.”

This trusting of the knee should be accomplished before playing in a game, and part of the whole rehab program.

How do you put a player on the field if HE isn't 100% of his trust in his own knee?

Tonyan should have been doing all the things he needed to do to get that trust before suiting up, and if he didn't/isn't, he isn't playing. You can run the routes as vigorously in/out of real game pace. That's how your trust in yourself is proven.

It seems to be used as an excuse if the player doesn't perform well or play to previous expectations.

Anything less than 100% belief in yourself is not enough to warrant playing. It's not fair to the team or the fans if you aren't 100% ready or committed to playing.

3 points
Thegreatreynoldo's picture

October 23, 2022 at 04:50 am

Your "should" is operative in a perfect world, but every team sends the player out there when the staff says he is medically cleared even if the player has not made the psychological leap. IIRC, when the knee has 90% of its former function, the player is cleared. Time will help with some of the remaining lost 10%.

The player is committed and is being a warrior if he has not cleared the psychological hurdles. I suppose he might not make the same cut he would have, but those decisions are so fast that the player might not even know that he avoided making a juke or whatever.

Right now this team is better with Tonyan playing as is than they would be without him. Waiting would turn ACL injuries into 18 months to 24 months off for many players.

2 points
Coldworld's picture

October 22, 2022 at 01:47 pm

It normally takes 3-9 months for an athlete to be back to the fullest extent possible after returning to fitness to play after an ACL. It’s not just trust, it’s the function too. It’s something to bear in mind with Jenkins (why I think he would be better at G at this point) and also with Hill (and OBJ for those who want him). Bakh is probably different since the ACL itself no longer seems the issue and was a lot longer ago. Tonyan was back early enough that we might see it this season, but no guarantee, however, he’s looking better than I would have expected at this point.

1 points
TarynsEyes's picture

October 22, 2022 at 03:01 pm

One must have total trust in their ability to function to the expected level. If not, that affects the functionality of the whole. Yes, the best functionality will take a little time, but without total trust is will take much longer and the entire suffers.

As long as a player plays in a game with less than 100% trust in his ability to function properly, the team is under more stress to compensate. Players who are not ready in their own minds, physically, are more harmful to the others than themselves. Playing under this mindset, is nothing more than false bravado with a built-in excuse for failure.

1 points
Coldworld's picture

October 23, 2022 at 08:27 am

I look at this slightly differently. What do you mean by functioning properly? A player like Tonyan or Jenkins should have full normal function and be beyond the increased risk of a re-tear: the graft should be ligamentized. If true, there’s no reason why they can’t play.

However, that doesn’t mean the ligament is as effective, reducing explosion etc. So, typically, teams need to be realistic. Yes they get a player back, but if he’s a marginal athlete at the NFL level, they might not be getting a player that they can use. If he was a stand out, they may get a functionally adequate player for several months before they start to see the old player emerge. Look at Saquan Barclay’s performances this year and last as a classic example.

So who’s wrong? The player for being available or the team for relying on him/expecting an immediate return to pre injury athleticism? In my view Jenkins was used for need and we need to be realistic that we should be grateful but not expect him to be himself this year. The same goes for Tonyan. Any team banking on avoiding this “lag” period is foolish.

-1 points