Ready or Not, the Season's Here for Finley

Looking forward to ample time building chemistry with Aaron Rodgers, Jermichael Finley got just two series working with the MVP quarterback in the preseason. Is Finley ready to start the season after a drop-plagued 2011? We check in with position coach Jerry Fontenot.

During spring practices, Jermichael Finley predicted a bounce-back season because he'd have the entire offseason working with Aaron Rodgers.

Finley got a fair amount of practice time with the MVP quarterback, but he missed two weeks with a quad strain and a third with a concussion. Finley played the first half of the preseason finale, but most of that was with Graham Harrell at quarterback. Finley and Rodgers were on the field for two series in that game. In the second series, the Packers handed the ball to Cedric Benson on three consecutive plays before punting.

Is Finley ready?

"He better be," tight ends coach James Fontenot said. "He's ready. He got a good amount of work during the last preseason game. He practiced hard and got a lot of reps last week to get our timing back."

Finley is entering the fifth season in the league. He's flashed his immense potential for some prolonged stretches — the second half of 2009 and the start of 2010 — but he's never put it all together over the course of a full season. Actually, he's never put it together for even close to a full season.

In some ways, Finley is a victim of his own success and talent. In 2009 and again in 2011, Finley caught 55 passes, leaving him one short of Paul Coffman's team record for a tight end. His 767 yards last season fell just short of Coffman's team-record 814. His eight touchdowns ranked third among tight ends. He moved the chains on 80.0 percent of his catches, good for second among tight ends.

"When he's been healthy, he's a potent weapon," offensive coordinator Tom Clements said on Thursday. "He has a lot of talent. He likes to play the game. He's enthusiastic. He's tough to handle."

While Finley's production has been good, it's never seemed good enough. He missed three games in 2009 and the final 11 games of 2010, when the Packers won the Super Bowl with Finley on injured reserve. Last season, he dropped 12 passes. Catch half of those, and he likely adds the 109 yards necessary to move from 13th to fifth among tight ends. His catch percentage of 60.4 ranked 25 out of the 32 tight ends who played at least half of his team's offensive snaps, according to Pro Football Focus.

"All of you all know the kind of guy that I am, so of course (the drops) bothered me," Finley said recently. "But this year, I feel lke I've got my eye coordination back and I think the hands are ready. (Rodgers) throws a hard ball, so you've got to keep your eye on it at all times. I'm ready."

To get ready, Fontenot frequently can be seen firing passes to Finley, whether it's in individual drills or to the side during special-teams periods. A lot of the work involves the use of big dummies to obstruct the tight ends' view of the ball and get them acclimated to the split-second between seeing one of Rodgers' passes and making the catch.

"I focused on getting our guys re-sighted on the football and doing a lot of drills in our individual periods," Fontenot said. "Really, it's trying to surprise them with throws because as fast as our quarterback throws the ball, you have to be ready at any given moment for the ball to be on you."

In this offense, Finley almost certainly won't match Jimmy Graham's 99 catches for Rob Gronkowski's 17 touchdowns. Still, if he can make the most of his opportunities, he'll have a chance to make good on his goals.

"Pretty much the same thing," Finley said: "Be the best tight end in the league and get me a Pro Bowl under my belt, and, of course, get to New Orleans (for the Super Bowl). That's the main goal."

That will take chemistry with the quarterback. Has he achieved that despite limited time together?

"Yeah," Fontenot said. "Yes. Simple."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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