"I can come back and the first thing they're going to see is me sprinting. I guarantee right now Green Bay doesn't think I'm ready," the Green Bay Packers' star tight end told FoxSportsNorth's Tyler Mason recently. "This offseason's been the best offseason I've had."
Finley looked primed for a breakout season after catching 44 passes and scoring four touchdowns during his final eight games of 2009. Sure enough, Finley was a dominant force during the first four games of last season, with 21 catches for 301 yards and a touchdown. Simply, he was on course to be the NFL's dominant force at the position.
Want more? This is just one of four stories previewing the tight ends, with the others coming later tonight. For more, take our one-week free trial!
And then, disaster struck. He injured his right knee while breaking down to make a tackle after teammate Donald Lee fumbled on the first series of the Week 5 game at Washington. He was placed on injured reserve a week later, with surgery to repair the meniscus — rather than remove it — being a move for Finley's long-term best interests.
After Finley went down, the offense went into a funk, losing 16-13 to the Redskins on Oct. 10, 23-20 against Miami on Oct. 17 and edging the Jets 9-0 on Oct. 31. It wasn't until a month after the injury, when the Packers demolished Dallas 45-7, that the offense regained its footing.
That leads into one of the major story lines of training camp. Assuming Finley is healthy and back to dominating practices, how will the offense use him?
Will Finley return to being the go-to receiver by virtue of being almost uncoverable? Or will quarterback Aaron Rodgers, emboldened by a spread-it-around approach that led to five players catching at least 43 passes during a regular season that led to a world championship, be able to strike a balance in which he can keep the outspoken Finley happy while not slanting the offense too far toward No. 88?
Beyond Finley, tight end is clearly the Packers' best position, and it's not out of the question that they'll keep five of them on the 53-man roster.
Andrew Quarless had an up-and-down rookie season while playing a role far bigger than he could have imagined. Quarless, who admitted he wasn't in good enough shape for what was asked of him, wound up matching Finley's total of 21 catches and proved himself a decent run blocker, but too often was guilty of lining up in the wrong spot and dropped four of the 42 passes thrown his way (including playoffs), according to Pro Football Reference.
Tom Crabtree was the unit's designated blocker. While Quarless went out for passes on about half of his 518 total snaps, Crabtree either was used as a run blocker or pass protector on 302 of his 395 snaps. He caught four passes during the regular season but got open for a 7-yard touchdown in the playoff game at Philadelphia. He tied for second on the team with 12 tackles on special teams.
The Packers parted ways with Lee, who turned 11 of his catches into touchdowns, but added fifth-round pick D.J. Williams and seventh-round pick Ryan Taylor. Williams, a prolific receiver at Arkansas, potentially provides some insurance should Finley depart as a free agent after this season. With 54 catches as a senior and 61 as a sophomore, he owns two of the top four seasons in school history. Taylor had just five starts during his career at North Carolina but was the Tar Heels' three-time special teams player of the year.
Popular and versatile Spencer Havner, who was released at the end of camp last season but brought back in November, is a long shot. He played in one game, at Atlanta on Nov. 28, but injured his hamstring while covering a kickoff and was placed on injured reserve.
Agree or disagree?: Discuss hot Packers topics in our, free forums. Leave Bill a question in the subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum.
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport.