2020 third-round draft pick prepped and ready for Year 3Mike Spofford
GREEN BAY - For the first time, Josiah Deguara feels fully prepared, mentally and physically, to show what he can bring to the Packers' offense.
As a rookie third-round draft pick in 2020, Deguara didn't get an offseason program or preseason games to absorb everything in the offense and learn the ropes in the NFL. He was thrown into the fire, and he successfully held his own until injuring his knee in his fourth pro game.
That led to the 2021 offseason being focused on rehab and recovery, and while he got his knee ready for Week 1 last year, he had only hit the field full-go for the preseason finale, missing the first two warm-up contests.
So it's with that backdrop that Deguara, the 6-2, 238-pound tight end, appreciated everything he got to do during the spring to prep for the summer. As the receiving corps undergoes a transition without Davante Adams, plus the tight ends uncertain when Robert Tonyan can return from his own ACL rehab, training camp will provide a showcase as well as proving ground for Deguara, and he's eager to attack it.
"To have my first real offseason, I've felt great," he said during OTAs in June. "I've been able to work on the things I want to work on.
"It's not an elephant in the room, but Davante's gone. All the balls that he got were much deserved, so there's opportunity for guys to step up, and I'm going to try to be one of those guys."
Deguara showed flashes last year of the impact player he wants to be, and believes he can be.
At Minnesota in Week 11, he hauled in an impressive 25-yard touchdown catch off an extended play when quarterback Aaron Rodgers broke the pocket and found him cutting across the back of the end zone.
Then in the second half of the regular-season finale at Detroit, he took a screen pass from Jordan Love, used his blockers and went the distance for a 62-yard score, the biggest play of his young career.
In all, he caught 25 passes for 245 yards and the two TDs in 2021. After a slow start during which he caught just two passes for eight yards over the first seven games, he posted at least two receptions every week the rest of the regular season, beginning with the game in which Tonyan went down.
"As the season progressed last year, it seemed like he was playing faster," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said. "Definitely knew what to do. Anytime you're coming off a pretty significant injury like that, it takes some time. We were really happy with him at the end of the year and hopefully he can build upon that.
"That play he had against Detroit was great. I think that really showed what he's capable of doing."
Still, Year 2 wasn't without its hiccups. One example came in a late-game, goal-line sequence at Arizona in Week 8, when Deguara lined up wrong and Rodgers, without any timeouts, was forced to take a delay-of-game penalty.
The plusses and minuses were typical, frankly, of a young player who only played four games before his rookie season was cut short. If there's one thing Deguara took the most pride in from his second season, it was that he missed just one game, and gaining that much experience should only help him moving forward.
"I was able to learn what going through a full NFL season was like, mentally, physically, and everything," he said.
"Physically, obviously my knee was a big deal, getting over that, but being able to stay mentally strong through the ups and the downs of the season, being able to battle back, after a bad play, after a good play, moving on to the next play, that's the biggest thing that I learned. My faith brought me through that and this year I'm just excited to learn from all that and be better because of it."
Deguara often mentions his faith having helped him get through the rough times, particularly the grueling ACL rehab. He brought up Tony Evans' faith-based book "Detours: The Unpredictable Path to Your Destiny," as a source of stability and inspiration for him, and he's shared the book with teammates battling back from serious injuries.
He's hoping with Year 3 on the horizon the health struggles are behind him, and he knows LaFleur's scheme places value on the tight end position and presents it with opportunity. Cashing in on that convergence is now the aim, whether that means him, leader Marcedes Lewis, Tyler Davis, Dominique Dafney, or Tonyan upon return.
"As a tight end room, we try to pride ourselves on being one of the keys to the offense," Deguara said. "We do a lot of things in this offense to try to be successful. We know we're going to have to step up. We know we've had to step up in the past and we're going to do it again."
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