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Notebook: Finley Itching To Get Back On The Field

Tight end Jermichael Finley said Wednesday he had never missed a football game in his life due to an injury prior to sustaining a knee sprain in Week 7 at Cleveland, so after being sidelined for three games, he is more than ready to return this Sunday against San Francisco. - More Mike McCarthy Press Conference Transcript - Nov. 18

Tight end Jermichael Finley said Wednesday he had never missed a football game in his life due to an injury prior to sustaining a knee sprain in Week 7 at Cleveland, so after being sidelined for three games, he is more than ready to return this Sunday against San Francisco.

Finley suffered the injury on the opening drive of the game against the Browns on a 16-yard reception, and had yet to participate fully in practice since then until Wednesday. Head Coach Mike McCarthy said Finley took his normal number of reps for a Wednesday practice.

"I feel pretty good," Finley said. "A little rusty out there today, the first day back. I'm just excited to be back.

"It's just a great thing to be back in the lineup and helping my team win."

After a strong showing in the preseason, the second-year tight end got off to a slow start in the regular season, catching just five passes for 62 yards in the first three games.

But Finley's coming-out party came in Week 4 in the Monday night game at Minnesota when he posted career highs in catches (six) and receiving yards (128), including a 62-yard touchdown reception. The catch was the longest by a Packers tight end since Jackie Harris' 66-yarder in 1993, and his 128 yards matched Harris for the franchise single-game high by a tight end.

Finley followed that up with a five-catch, 54-yard performance against Detroit, and had 17 receptions for 260 yards (15.3 avg.) on the season when he got hurt. The yards-per-catch average ranked second among NFL tight ends at the time.

"I love throwing to the big guy," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "He makes plays for us down the field, and having him back just adds another element to our offense.

"He's made some plays for us. So I think he's been a little anxious to get back. Definitely he's worked hard in the weight room and the training room to get back, and we're excited to have him back."

First-year tight end Spencer Havner has been productive as the second tight end behind veteran Donald Lee in Finley's absence, catching five passes for 82 yards and four touchdowns. But the Packers' offense has missed the athletic Finley's big-play ability, not just what he can bring to the table himself, but also what he does for the offense.

In the six games Finley played in the offense posted a total of 18 catches of 25-plus yards, and just four of those explosive gains in the three games he has missed.

"Anytime you have a player, whether it is a tight end, a receiver, a big back, that has the ability to win down the middle of the field, it creates so many more positives for your whole perimeter group," McCarthy said. "So definitely, Jermichael Finley fits into that category."

Plenty of connections

McCarthy spent one season on San Francisco's staff as offensive coordinator in 2005 before being named head coach of the Packers, but he has links to several members of the 49ers staff from previous coaching stops.

McCarthy worked with 49ers head coach Mike Singletary in '05 when Singletary served as the assistant head coach/linebackers, and coached with all three of the team's coordinators prior to that.

San Francisco's offense is run by longtime NFL coach Jimmy Raye, who is in his 33rd season in the NFL. Raye coached running backs for Kansas City from 1993-97 when McCarthy was on the Chiefs staff, and was the offensive coordinator there for three seasons after that, including 1998, McCarthy's last year in Kansas City.

"I have probably learned as much football from Jimmy Raye as anybody I have been around," McCarthy said. "I think he is as knowledgeable and as experienced a coach as I have ever been around."

Another connection from Kansas City for McCarthy is 49ers defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, who played linebacker for the Chiefs from 1994-98 when McCarthy was on the staff.

San Francisco's special teams coordinator, Al Everest, held the same position with the New Orleans Saints from 2000-05, coaching four of those seasons (2000-04) alongside McCarthy when he directed the New Orleans offense.

Knack for the ball

When rookie outside linebacker Clay Matthews recorded his second fumble recovery of the day against Dallas last Sunday, he did something that a Packers rookie hadn't done in nearly 56 years.

The last Green Bay rookie to post two defensive fumble recoveries in the same game was defensive back Val Joe Walker on Nov. 26, 1953, against the Detroit Lions. The recoveries of fumbles forced by cornerback Charles Woodson gave Matthews three for the season, which is tied for the NFL lead.

"Just running and getting to the ball, hustling, and good things happen," Matthews said. "In fact I think I should just start following Charles Woodson around the field and good things are bound to happen. I'm thankful for him, but at the same time glad I was there to recover those fumbles and hopefully a few more to come."

No Packers player had recovered three fumbles in a season since 2005, when linebacker Nick Barnett and defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila both did. The rookie franchise record is four, set by safety Johnnie Gray in 1975, and the last Packer to post four in a season was defensive end/linebacker Keith McKenzie in 1999.

"It's just something you develop over time and you just continue to learn and work in practice," Matthews said. "Pretty soon it becomes second nature. You're just going after the ball. You see Charles does it in games, he just goes after the ball each and every time."

Back in the mix

Right tackle Mark Tauscher, who sprained his surgically repaired knee at Tampa Bay in Week 9, practiced fully on Wednesday for the first time since the injury.

Tauscher took some snaps with the No. 1 offense during the jog-through portion of practice, with rookie T.J. Lang, who started in Tauscher's place against Dallas, also working in with the first group.

{sportsad300}Tauscher suffered a torn ACL last season in Week 14 against Houston, and re-injured the knee against the Buccaneers in the third quarter when a defensive lineman rolled into the back of his leg.

"It was unfortunate because it's been a long road back and I was really feeling good," Tauscher said. "But that's part of the game.

"It's kind of the price of doing business. You have to realize that every time you step out on the field that something could happen, and obviously with the history that I have, it was just another kind of a fluke hit. I was fortunate that it was pretty minor."

McCarthy said on Monday that he will take the week of practice into account before making a decision on who will start at right tackle.

Big ratings

Last week's FOX doubleheader game (mostly Packers-Cowboys) was watched by 26.7 million viewers, making it the most-watched program on television last week (Nov. 9-15).

Injury/participation update

Linebackers Desmond Bishop (ankle) and Brady Poppinga (quad) and defensive end Cullen Jenkins (ankle) did not participate in Wednesday's practice. McCarthy said all three players did rehab and could possibly practice on Thursday.

Linebackers Brad Jones (concussion) and Clay Matthews (jaw) and cornerback Charles Woodson (hip) were limited participants.

Linebacker Aaron Kampman participated fully for the first time since sustaining a concussion at Tampa Bay in Week 9.

"I feel good about where Aaron is medically, and he looked like he moved around fine today," McCarthy said. "I'll know more once we see the tape. But yeah, I thought he bounced back like you knew he would, and he looked like his normal self out there today."

Finley, Tauscher, linebacker Brandon Chillar (hand) and fullback John Kuhn (hand) all participated fully.

Rodgers, who had been on the report each of the last four weeks with toe/foot injuries, was not listed on Wednesday. Also, receiver Greg Jennings, whom McCarthy indicated might miss some practice time this week with a bruised knee, practiced fully and is not listed on the injury report.

For the 49ers, cornerback Nate Clements (shoulder) and tackle Joe Staley (knee) are out. Nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin (not injury related) and linebacker Takeo Spikes (hamstring) did not participate.

Defensive tackle Justin Smith (back) was a limited participant. Wide receivers Isaac Bruce (ankle and elbow) and Michael Crabtree (knee), running backs Glen Coffee (concussion) and Michael Robinson (shoulder), defensive tackle Demetric Evans (shoulder), safeties Michael Lewis (quad) and Mark Roman (knee), and tackle/guard Adam Snyder (shoulder) all participated fully.

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