Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur announced that the team would be activating three key injured players off the PUP list on Sunday: tight end Robert Tonyan, offensive lineman Elgton Jenkins and rookie wide receiver Christian Watson.
LaFleur indicated that the trio would be doing some walkthrough work on the side but would not yet be participating in a full practice with the team.
“It’s just the next step in the process,” LaFleur told reporters on Sunday. “It’s not like they’re going to be out there in team drills, but they’re going to do some individual. With them being back, now it allows you to do some walkthroughs, which is going to be obviously very beneficial especially for a guy who hasn’t played in the National Football League like Christian. So, it’ll be great to get them out there for some of the walkthroughs.”
Still, this is a major step forward for these three players. Since the Packers activated them now, they cannot start the NFL regular season on the PUP list. They will now either will be placed on the injured reserve or the active roster before the start of the regular season.
These three players are all important to the 2022 Packers offense. Tonyan has been the team’s starting tight end for the last two seasons when he’s been healthy. He had a breakout season in 2020, catching 52 passes for 586 yards and 11 touchdowns. He had an incredible catch percentage of 88.1 which is truly elite.
In 2021, Tonyan struggled early in the season. He was asked to stay in and help chip pass rushers off the edge for three early season games when both the team’s top two left tackles, David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins, were out of the lineup. He was injured in the Packers win over the Cardinals and finished the season with just 18 catches for 204 yards and two touchdowns in eight games. The injury came at a time when the former Indiana State star was just rounding back into form.
Tonyan is by far the Packers most dangerous downfield receiver at the tight end position. While other players on the roster have sure hands and can be reliable receivers, the Packers offense adds another dimension when Tonyan is healthy and on the field.
The Packers are still not sure if Tonyan will be ready for the start of the regular season on September 11th in Minnesota but this is clearly a sign of progress towards that goal.
Jenkins made the Pro Bowl in 2020 at left guard. He is one of the most versatile offensive linemen in the NFL today and can play any of the five positions along the line at a high level. He started the 2021 season at left tackle after Bakhtiari was out of the lineup with a knee injury.
The move didn’t hurt Jenkins’ play and he was performing at a Pro Bowl level while protecting Aaron Rodgers’ blind side last season. Unfortunately, Jenkins missed three early-season games with an ankle injury and then was lost for the season with a knee injury in the Packers Week 11 loss to the Vikings.
Getting Jenkins back in the lineup is vital for the Packers offense. With Bakhtiari still on the PUP list, Jenkins’ return would give them at least one experienced starting tackle who can play at an elite level.
More importantly, Jenkins’ versatility means that he can be plugged in anywhere along the line to fill depending on which players are injured or playing poorly.
We still don’t know if Jenkins will be ready to play in Week 1, but clearly by activating him, the Packers believe he will be ready sooner rather than later and that bodes well for the strength of the offensive line which is one of the keys to the offense.
The Packers would have some issues without Bakhtiari or Jenkins but all Packers fans remember the team’s last two playoff defeats and how the team struggled to protect Rodgers and run the football when both were out of the lineup.
Watson is a different story. The rookie second-round draft pick has yet to be on the field in training camp this year after suffering an injury after OTAs.
The Packers traded up to select the former North Dakota State star and he has elite physical abilities for an NFL wideout. Watson’s combination of size and speed is rare and he has the potential to become an dangerous weapon in the Packers offense.
He also had a lot to learn as it is a big jump from the basic and run-heavy offense he ran in college to the complex route trees he must learn in the NFL. The level of competition is also much higher.
Missing the first two weeks of training camp was a disappointment for Watson and it may make it harder for him to contribute to the offense early in the season. GM Brian Gutekunst and the coaching staff remain confident that this will not have any long-term impact on his ability to play.
None of these players are ready to take the field just yet, but clearly the Packers think they will be soon. It is encouraging to have these three making progress and they should be able to help the offense and the team shortly.
Follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers
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