Packers Training Camp Countdown: 32 Days

It's time to get ready for training camp with our annual Training Camp Countdown series. With 32 days remaining until the start of camp, we lead off with Jermichael Finley, whose 32 catches over the last seven games made him one of the NFL's more productive tight ends.

Jermichael Finley has been many things during his first five seasons in the NFL.

He's been productive. Opinionated. Inconsistent. Frustrating.

But a leader?

"J-Mike is the leader in our room," fellow tight end D.J. Williams said, "and we see him finishing 50 yards down the field after the whistle is blown so we're like, ‘OK, now we need to pick our game up.'"

Finley looks to pick up from where he left off at the end of last season. And the offseason, he hopes, is the jumping-off point for the first productive 16-game season of his career.

"You know, man, the way you practice is the way you play," Finley said of routinely running 30, 40 and 50 yards after a catch. "That's what I'm (thinking) right now. I'm practicing physical and hopefully I can carry it on to Sunday."

In the final seven games of last season, Finley caught 32 passes. Only Dallas' Jason Witten (44), New Orleans' Jimmy Graham (40), Oakland's Brandon Myers (35) and New England's Aaron Hernandez (34) had more receptions among tight ends.

Only Witten (454) and Graham (449) had more yards than Finley's 396 during that final seven-game stretch.

"Just play with attitude," Finley said of his strong second-half production. "Play confident and just go out there with attitude and just play my type of ball."

In the first nine games, according to ProFootballFocus.com, Finley caught 29-of-45 targeted passes for 271 yards, averaged 3.4 yards after the catch per reception, and had seven drops. In the final seven games, he caught 32-of-40 passes for 396 yards, averaged 6.2 yards after the catch per reception, and cut his drops to two.

Project those seven games over a 16-game season, and Finley would have finished with 73 receptions for 905 yards, with a catch percentage of 80.0. Among tight ends, that would have ranked fifth in catches, fourth in yards, first in catch percentage and second in YAC per catch.

"I don't know that he was targeted anymore in the second half of the season, but I know his production went up," tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot said. "To me, the biggest statistical different is he didn't have the number of drops or percentage of drops that he did the first half of the season. He started having confidence catching the ball and once he gets his hands on the ball, he's always been a threat. Our main focus going into last season was eliminate needless drops if you will and I feel we kind of got him through that. From there, it was just a matter of going on his own, self-confidence."

Finley dominated down the stretch in 2009 and he dominated for the first four games of 2010 until a season-ending knee injury derailed his career. After cutting down to about 240 pounds for 2011 and staying there for 2012, Fontenot is "back where I like to see him," coach Mike McCarthy said. While that number has been kept under wraps, his listed weight for the past several seasons has been 247.

If a bigger Finley can play big for a full 16 games, there will be major rewards not only for Finley but the team. He's entering his final season under contract, so there's a major financial reward at the end of the rainbow. From a team perspective, Finley needs to produce for a passing game that has no proven playmakers beyond Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb.

"I feel strong right now, healthy. I feel confident. I'm just excited," Finley said.


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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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