1 GREEN BAY PACKERS

September 04, 2011

Tight end Jermichael Finley wants to join in on the Lombardi fun

I love the tight end," says Packers coach Mike McCarthy. In his offense the position is more than a safety valve. It's a vital downfield weapon when the corners are smothering Green Bay's wideouts—and even when they're not. But the tight end was barely a footnote in McCarthy's playbook during last season's Super Bowl run because he was without emerging star Jermichael Finley, who suffered a season-ending torn meniscus in his right knee on the second play of a Week 5 loss at Washington. In four postseason victories, during which Green Bay averaged 30.3 points, Aaron Rodgers threw for 1,094 yards. Only 54 of those were to a tight end.

Now we'll find out how good the Pack attack can really be. Green Bay placed 15 players on injured reserve in 2010, but it was the loss of Finley, a 6'5" bundle of energy, that was most prominent for the offense. Focusing primarily on wideouts Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, Rodgers went 11--4 with Finley sidelined, completing 65.6% of his throws for 4,076 yards, 29 touchdowns and just eight interceptions to rise to the top of the football world. So it's safe to say the QB compensated—not that he was happy about it.

"He's a matchup nightmare," Rodgers said of Finley during training camp. "He's so big, so tough to cover, and he can open things up for us in the backfield and at receiver with all the attention he'll draw."

Now entering his fourth season out of Texas, Finley, 24, came to camp leaner—down about 10 pounds to 242—and faster, determined to be the downfield threat he'd shown flashes of becoming in 2009, his first year as a starter, when he had 55 catches and five touchdowns. As McCarthy integrates Finley back into the offense, teams will have to figure out how to cover a tight end with the chiseled, angular frame of a bigger Larry Fitzgerald. Finley will operate as a classic pass-catching tight end: running at the safeties, splitting the secondary, forcing defenses to deploy a good cover man. "I believe in attacking the middle of the field with the tight end," McCarthy says. "It's the fastest way to the end zone."

Opponents will likely shy away from using linebackers on Finley because of his quickness. Should they use a big safety to match up physically? Or a corner to handle the speed?

"You've got to put a corner on Jermichael," says Rodgers. "I figure they'll put their top corner on Greg [Jennings], and the Number 2 guy on Jermichael. When we've played the Lions, they played a high-low [safety deep, corner in coverage] on Greg, high-low on Jermichael. We could see that."

At one August practice Finley's uncanny pass-catching ability stood out. Over his head, off the ground, with one hand ... if Finley could get a fingertip on the ball, he caught it. And then he let the cover men know about it. Loudly. The star tight ends in the NFL—Antonio Gates, Jason Witten, Tony Gonzalez—are quiet types. Finley's more of a diva receiver (though he backs up the yakking with excellent preparation). Two seasons ago he got into a gamelong verbal and physical jousting match with Detroit strong safety Louis Delmas that prompted commissioner Roger Goodell to send a letter to Finley, telling him to cool it. "We love that swagger," says Rodgers. "It's one of the things about him we really missed."

Teams trying to repeat as champions often have to deal with flagging motivation. Finley's return will help the Pack in that regard. A big part of him feels he didn't earn his Super Bowl ring, so he wants to be a cornerstone of a second championship team.

"We've got the deadliest offense in the league," Finley says, "and last year I had to watch it, not play on it. You play your whole life to get to the Super Bowl. I watched the Super Bowl from the sideline, incognito. It was surreal. I'm happy we won it, of course. But when you're not playing it's different—it was a bittersweet night. That's why this off-season I was so hungry. I never worked like this before. I made sure I was in the best shape of my life."

Last year Finley was on his way to the Pro Bowl—he had nine catches and 115 yards against the Bears two weeks before the injury. His replacements, Andrew Quarless and Tom Crabtree, were more blockers than receivers. Now Finley hopes to get the shot he missed out on in 2010: being a major weapon for a star quarterback on a Super Bowl contender.

"All I've shown in my career is an appetizer," Finley said. "It's time for the main course."

PROJECTED LINEUP

WITH 2010 STATS

OFFENSE

2010 Rank: 9

QB AARON RODGERS

ATT 475

COMP 312

PCT 65.7

YARDS 3,922

YD/ATT 8.26

TD 28

INT 11

RATING 101.2

RB JAMES STARKS

ATT 29

YARDS 101

REC 2

TTD 0

FB JOHN KUHN

ATT 84

YARDS 281

REC 15

TTD 6

WR GREG JENNINGS

REC 76

YARDS 1,265

AVG 16.6

TTD 12

WR DONALD DRIVER

REC 51

YARDS 565

AVG 11.1

TTD 4

TE JERMICHAEL FINLEY

REC 21

YARDS 301

AVG 14.3

TTD 1

LT CHAD CLIFTON

G 16

SACKS 8½

HOLD 0

FALSE 4

LG T.J. LANG*

G 16

SACKS 5½

HOLD 0

FALSE 2

C SCOTT WELLS

G 16

SACKS 1½

HOLD 1

FALSE 0

RG JOSH SITTON

G 16

SACKS 0

HOLD 1

FALSE 2

RT BRYAN BULAGA

G 16

SACKS 11

HOLD 3

FALSE 6

RB RYAN GRANT

ATT 8

YARDS 45

REC 0

TTD 0

WR JORDY NELSON

REC 45

YARDS 582

AVG 12.9

TTD 2

DEFENSE

2010 Rank: 5

DE RYAN PICKETT

TACKLES 32

SACKS 1

INT 0

NT B.J. RAJI

TACKLES 39

SACKS 6½

INT 0

DE MIKE NEAL

TACKLES 3

SACKS 1

INT 0

LB CLAY MATTHEWS

TACKLES 60

SACKS 13½

INT 1

LB A.J. HAWK

TACKLES 110

SACKS ½

INT 3

LB DESMOND BISHOP

TACKLES 99

SACKS 3

INT 1

LB FRANK ZOMBO

TACKLES 38

SACKS 4

INT 0

CB CHARLES WOODSON

TACKLES 92

SACKS 2

INT 2

SS MORGAN BURNETT

TACKLES 14

SACKS 0

INT 1

FS NICK COLLINS

TACKLES 63

SACKS 0

INT 4

CB TRAMON WILLIAMS

TACKLES 55

SACKS 1

INT 6

DB SAM SHIELDS

TACKLES 28

SACKS 0

INT 2

SPECIALISTS

K MASON CROSBY

FG 22

FGA 28

XP 46

PTS 112

P TIM MASTHAY

PUNTS 71

GROSS 43.9

NET 37.6

* 2009 stats

BOLD: Projected starter

TTD: Total touchdowns

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

SACKS: Sacks allowed

HOLD: Holding penalties

FALSE: False starts

2011 SCHEDULE

2010 RECORD: 10--6

September

8 New Orleans (Thu)

18 at Carolina

25 at Chicago

October

2 Denver

9 at Atlanta

16 St. Louis

23 at Minnesota

30 BYE

November

6 at San Diego

14 Minnesota (Mon)

20 Tampa Bay

24 at Detroit (Thu)

December

4 at N.Y. Giants

11 Oakland

18 at Kansas City

25 Chicago

January

1 Detroit

COACH MIKE MCCARTHY

AGE: 47

SIXTH SEASON WITH THE PACKERS (48--32)

He's not going to win awards for public speaking, but he knows how to get his point across in the locker room. McCarthy respects the game and the people around it. He runs the offense but cedes the D to Dom Capers (though he'll intervene if he doesn't like something). With a stay-the-course G.M. like Ted Thompson, McCarthy could coach this team for another 10 years.

SPOTLIGHT

RANDALL COBB, Receiver/returner

On draft weekend, when Green Bay picked Cobb in the second round, the question posed by more than a few Packers fans was, "Why take a receiver so high? We don't need one." And that was before Green Bay had re-signed deep threat James Jones, who was a free agent. Then in training camp Cheeseheads began asking a different question: "Did you see what Cobb did today?"

One of the most dangerous players in college football last year, Cobb could give the Packers a huge lift as they try to repeat as Super Bowl champs. "Great, natural hands," says coach Mike McCarthy. "Elusive. Dangerous in the open field. He reminds me of Charles Woodson when he gets his hands on the ball." When you don't have any obvious holes—find one on the Packers; it's very hard to do—you can draft a return man with a chance to be your slot receiver of the future. At Kentucky the 5'10", 192-pound Cobb played quarterback (both standard and wildcat), running back, receiver and returner, scoring 37 touchdowns and throwing for five more in three seasons. He'll find an early role in the return game and then try to earn his way onto the field in five-receiver formations. Don't be surprised to see McCarthy, not a big wildcat practitioner, become one in his zeal to get this 21-year-old rookie as many touches as possible.

PHOTOJOHN BIEVER PHOTOJOHN BIEVERMATCH GAME Finley's too fast for a linebacker or safety, and his size will present big problems for teams that try to cover him with a cornerback. PHOTOFRANK JANSKY/SOUTHCREEK GLOBAL/ZUMAPRESS.COM (COBB)

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