Finley Works On Broadening His Game

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As a featured pass-catcher at the University of Texas, tight end Jermichael Finley's college career was focused on, well, catching passes.

But when he got to the NFL as a rookie last year, his job got a lot more complicated. He had blocking assignments in the running game, protection responsibilities in the passing game, and adjustments to make against blitzes, as well as passes to catch against much better defenders and more complex coverage schemes.

That's a lot for any rookie to take in, let alone a then-21-year-old who had played only two seasons in college, redshirting his first year and then entering the NFL Draft with two years of eligibility remaining. And at times it showed.

But entering his second year in the NFL, Finley feels there's a "world of difference" in his adjustment to the pro game. These days he can't stop saying how excited he is for the season to get going, presumably because the confident youngster feels he'll be capable of displaying all the potential the Packers saw in him by drafting him in the third round in 2008.

"Last year it was all just overwhelming with everything I was getting thrown in and thrown at," Finley said. "This year I'm comfortable. I used to go into the huddle looking at 'A-Rod' with 8-ball eyes. This year I'm real relaxed and real comfortable, so I'm ready."

How quickly Finley can open others' eyes in 2009, only time will tell. During this month's organized team activities (OTAs), he's working primarily as the No. 2 tight end but also sharing some first-team reps with starter Donald Lee.

That status is in part a carry-over from his strong finish to last season, when he caught three passes for 64 yards and his first NFL touchdown over the final two games. Using his athletic, 6-foot-5 and 247-pound frame to his advantage, the two non-scoring grabs were on fade routes down the sideline for 35 and 26 yards, respectively.

"I think he has to feel good that he got his feet wet a little bit," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "He got a chance to compete in a real live game and make a couple plays. It's got to give a player some sense of confidence in his abilities. I don't think he's a guy that's lacking for confidence anyways. But it's hopefully a springboard for better things to come."

Finley's confidence crossed the line earlier in the season, though. After a tough overtime loss Week 9 at Tennessee, during which Finley failed to haul in a couple of what appeared to be catchable passes - his footwork and timing on the routes looked off - he publicly criticized quarterback Aaron Rodgers for the throws and the coaching staff for not using him properly.

He took a lot of deserved heat for those words, both internally and externally, and he has chalked it up to a valuable learning experience. Humbled a bit perhaps, he was much quieter the second half of the season and eventually was noticed for his production on the field down the stretch.

"He went through some rocky moments, and having a chance to have success to close out a tough year was good to see," tight ends coach Ben McAdoo said.

"I certainly like the way he came on the last two games, the last half of last season really. We saw him make progress, and that's a credit to him. He spent a lot of time on the 'look' (scout) team and continued to work on other stuff on offense and continued to improve."

Added Finley: "Hopefully we can get that end of the year rolling to the beginning of the year this year."

That could happen if the expected improvement in his blocking shows up in training camp when the pads go on. Finley wasn't asked to do a whole lot of blocking while catching 76 passes for nearly 1,000 yards in the two seasons he played at Texas, but as his game becomes more well-rounded, Finley will get more opportunities to play, and make plays.

McAdoo also noted that during the earlier portions of the offseason program, Finley put in the extra time studying the offense and working on the individual parts of his game.

"Probably the most important thing is he just needed to sync in to what we do offensively in the run game, the pass game, and understanding of the protections," McAdoo said. "He just needs to play."

{sportsad300}Thus far in the OTAs, he's been the target of several passes, making some quality receptions but barely missing some other potentially impressive ones. But the least of the coaching staff's concerns is Finley's ability to catch passes.

It's putting together all the other roles and responsibilities that matters more right now, and the progress so far is promising.

"Our tight end position, those guys wear a lot of hats, they do a lot of things," Philbin said. "He's absorbed a lot of that. He's starting to get a little more comfortable, he's playing faster. We're excited about his potential. We're anxious to see how much further he can develop here in these OTAs and then obviously in the competitive aspect of training camp and the preseason."

At the risk of speaking out of turn before he's even in the starting lineup, Finley simply can't wait.

"I feel like the organization has high expectations for me and they have big things in store for me," he said. "So I've got to fill that gap in."

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