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Transition To Pros Ongoing For Finley


As a third-round draft pick from the University of Texas, tight end Jermichael Finley was evaluated as a dangerous receiver whose speed and athleticism could stretch the field and cause match-up problems for opposing defenses.

The Packers still expect to see that, but before that happens, Finley must continue to develop the remaining - and shall we say less glamorous - skills a tight end needs to compete at an NFL level. That's been his focus since he arrived in Green Bay, and that transition to the pro game will continue for Finley during the final two preseason games.

"The offenses they come out of in college, they have certain things that are important," tight ends coach Ben McAdoo said. "When you get to this level -- the run game, the pass game, pass protection -- they're all equally important. You can't segment.

"You can't put one thing on the top shelf and something else on the bottom shelf. Everything has to be on the same shelf here. It's a lot of volume, it takes a little bit of time, but it's fun when that light bulb clicks."

The coaching staff has seen that light bulb flicker a bit, but Finley is still very much a work in progress. That was expected after he spent just three seasons in college, one as a redshirt, and is just 21 years old, one of the youngest players in the league.

His transition began with the rookie orientation in early May following the draft, when Finley was first introduced to the offensive playbook and was holding what to him was a foreign language textbook.

The offensive system Finley ran at Texas was based on numbers, he said, whereas the Packers' terminology is words and phrases. It was admittedly difficult to learn, but McAdoo noted that now that Finley has been through all nine offensive installations twice, during the spring OTAs and the early stages of training camp, it's starting to come together.

"At first it was like I was lost out there, and I couldn't control it, because I didn't know the playbook or the speed of the game yet," Finley said. "But everything's coming. At first I was only thinking, but now I'm playing football."

And he's trying to do so at a heavier weight, without sacrificing any of his speed or athletic ability. Finley, who's 6-foot-5, played at Texas at around 245 pounds, but by following a specific diet and weight training regimen laid out by the strength and conditioning coaches, he's now up to 255 with a goal of 260 by the start of the regular season.

The additional weight should help Finley with his blocking, the on-field part of his game that is the most raw.

"When you're coming into the league for the first time, it's a big adjustment because of the volume, and the way we teach techniques," McAdoo said. "We try to get things to look the way we want it to look, to be consistent for the quarterback, to be consistent for the running back in the run game. It's been a little bit of a process."

Finley's blocking skills are getting tested regularly in practice by the Packers' veteran defensive ends, though, making it a given he was going to improve.

"You don't have any choice but to get the blocking down if you go against 'Kamp' (Aaron Kampman) and 'Hunt' (Jason Hunter) every day, because they go 100 miles per hour every day," he said. "They got me right real fast.

"It's the pass protection (that's the toughest). You've got 270 (pounds) coming toward you and you have to hold up. I have to work a little bit harder on that, and I'm going to do that before the regular season comes."

Finley also wants to work on getting better separation from linebackers when he runs his routes. As all NFL rookies quickly find out, it's not as easy to dominate the opponent on the other side of the line of scrimmage anymore.

"We've got linebackers that are as fast as the receivers, and if they get their hands on you, it destroys your route," Finley said. "The first five yards at tight end is crucial. You have to hit them and get out. That's one thing I've learned in this league."

Fortunately for Finley, what he doesn't have to "learn" are the long arms, soft hands and big target he provides for a quarterback.

{sportsad300}His natural gifts were once again on display in Tuesday's full-pads practice, when he made a series of notable plays. He made a nice sliding catch on a low throw from Matt Flynn during a team (11-on-11) period, and a short while later, he nearly made an acrobatic one-handed catch in the back of the end zone. He might have finished off the catch had rookie cornerback Pat Lee not gotten a hand in there at the last second and made him juggle the ball.

Then he finished the practice during 7-on-7 work with an impressive grab between linebacker Brandon Chillar and safety Aaron Rouse on a deep seam route.

It's that last type of play that Finley is anxious to make in a game. Thus far in the preseason, he has just two catches for 17 yards, with both grabs coming against the Bengals on Aug. 11.

"The opportunity hasn't come yet deep," Finley said. "I got little short ones, but I haven't gotten deep ones yet. If I get that opportunity I'm going to take advantage of it for sure.

"If I get the ball in my hands, I can show them what I can do."

The coaches just want to see everything else, too, and they're starting to, all in due time.

"He's coming along," McAdoo said. "He's digesting a bunch of information right now and doing the best he can to sort it out. He's competing real hard.

"I like his competitive spirit. He wants the ball in his hand and you've got to love that about a guy in the tight end position. It's exciting to see him come along, and it will be exciting to see where he's headed in the future."

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