Packers tight end Robert Tonyan out for the season with torn ACL; Za'Darius Smith eyes return
GREEN BAY - The Green Bay Packers left State Farm Stadium with a victory Thursday night, but there was a loss also.
Tight end Robert Tonyan suffered a torn left ACL, according to his agent, Jacik Bechta, ending his season and affecting his future. Tonyan will be an unrestricted free agent in March at which time he will be four months into a 10- to 12-month rehab. Bechta said there was no other damage in the knee, which is good news for Tonyan’s recovery.
Tonyan was hit awkwardly in the knee at the end of a 33-yard reception. He went down in a heap and grabbed the back of his leg as soon as he hit the ground. He was able to walk to the sideline with assistance from the medical staff and after being examined in the blue tent was taken to the locker room.
Coach Matt LaFleur seemed to know after the game that the injury was serious, although he did not reveal what it was. On Friday, he confirmed that not only would Tonyan be lost for the season but rookie running back Kylin Hill would miss the rest of the year with a knee injury also.
“That's the part of the game that you hate,” LaFleur said. “And really, that sucks, quite frankly. But I feel awful for both of those guys. They, they put a lot into this thing. And they're tough guys to replace.
“I mean, I know Kylin wasn't as involved with our offense up to this point, but certainly what he's done on special teams (as a kick returner). And then, you know, just watching a guy like Bobby, like I mentioned last night, just the growth and development of him and what he means to this football team. It's just knowing the amount of hours and everything he puts into this game, and it's just It's sickening for me as a coach.”
There was potential good news for the Packers.
Outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith tweeted he was returning to Green Bay after having back surgery and rehabbing at his home in Georgia, stating that he was eager to return to the field with his teammates and felt “like a new man.”
Smith missed all but one practice in training camp with the back injury and after playing 18 snaps in the season opener against New Orleans was shut down. A decision was made to have surgery and Smith was expected to be sidelined for a while, potentially the entire season.
It remains to be seen how soon the medical staff would clear him to play if he is feeling good enough to return.
LaFleur said he won’t know where Smith stands in his recovery until he is seen by the team’s doctors. When asked if a month was too soon for Smith to be available based on what he knew about the surgery, LaFleur declined to say.
“I'll give you guys a better update when I talk to ‘Flea’ (trainer Bryan Engel) and see exactly where he's at,” LaFleur said.
His return to Green Bay does seem to indicate there is not a rift between him and the team after not getting his contract redone and not being elected a team captain.
As for replacing Tonyan and Hill, the Packers will have to dig deep.
After a breakout season in 2020 in which he caught 52 passes for 586 yards and 11 touchdowns, Tonyan was having a much quieter season this year. In eight games, he caught 18 passes for 204 yards and two touchdowns.
However, the coaches asked him to sacrifice some of his pass-catching duties to help protect third-string left tackle Yosh Nijman when Elgton Jenkins injured his ankle. For three games, Tonyan was used a lot to chip defensive ends and outside linebackers, which affected his ability to get down the field.
His 33-yard catch against the Cardinals was a continuation of a trend that things were getting back to normal for him. The week prior he had caught a touchdown pass from quarterback Aaron Rodgers helped the Packers beat the Washington Football Team.
Tonyan, who had signed a one-year restricted free agent deal during the offseason, is the best pass-catching tight end the Packers have.
Veteran Marcedes Lewis, 37, is used mostly as a blocker, and second-year pro Josiah Deguara is off to a slow start after suffering an ACL tear last season. He had a critical mistake in the Cardinals game in which he lined up in the wrong spot, causing the Packers to take a delay of game at the Cardinals’ 1-yard line.
He is not the deep threat Tonyan is, but he is capable of being a receiving tight end. The Packers also have Dominique Dafney, who returned from a hip injury Thursday night and he could help fill the void also, although he’s more of a blocker than receiver.
The Packers’ only other tight end on the 53-man roster is Tyler Davis, who has not caught a pass this year. The Packers also have 6-6, 270-pound Bronson Kaufusi on the practice squad, but he is considered more of a blocking tight end.
As for a replacement for Hill, who is likely to go on injured reserve, the Packers have Patrick Taylor on the practice squad. In addition to possibly serving as the No. 3 running back, Taylor returned kickoffs in training camp and could serve there as well.