Tonyan, 25, was one of the Cinderella stories of Packers camp last summer. After finishing his rookie season on Green Bay’s practice squad, the former Indiana State receiver faced long odds to make the 53-man roster in a crowded tight end room.
Tonyan not only was still learning a new position, but he also had the unenviable task of competing for a job against three veterans (Grahams, Lewis and Lance Kendricks), none of whom were under any obligation to help the young tight end with his craft.
Instead, all three were an open book to Tonyan, who made the team as the No. 4 tight end on the back of a strong preseason in which he caught eight passes for 61 yards and two touchdowns.
It didn’t take long for the six-time Pro Bowler Graham to warm up to Tonyan, whose hard-working attitude in the classroom and pinpoint attention to detail quickly earned the veteran’s respect.
“Kid’s doing amazing,” Graham said. “What he’s done, even with his body putting on weight (and) what he’s done in the run game; obviously he’s going to help us out a lot this year. He’s got great hands and I love being around him, I love teaching him, and he soaks it all up.”
Graham’s resume and knowledge are valuable assets for any young tight end to tap into, but what stands out the most to Tonyan has been the 10th-year veteran’s professionalism.
Last year didn’t go according to plan for the Packers or Graham, who dealt with his share of injuries in his first season in Green Bay. Still, he played in all 16 regular-season games and became a trusted ally of quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Tonyan has tried to follow in those footsteps to earning his quarterback’s trust. He made a good first impression last November when his first NFL catch went for a 54-yard touchdown against Seattle on Thursday Night Football.
A day later, Graham asked Tonyan if he wanted to “ride” with him to Chicago during the Packers’ mini-bye weekend. Tonyan answered faster than his mind could recall Graham’s love of aviation.
“I was like, ‘Yeah, we can carpool,’” said Tonyan, laughing. “He goes, ‘Yeah, plane leaves at 3 o’clock.’ I said, ‘Even better.’”