It took until the eighth week of last season for tight end Jermichael Finley to make his first career catch.
That milestone was a mere footnote in that overtime loss at Tennessee, though. That's because of what the third-round draft pick said afterward about a missed fourth-down pass from Aaron Rodgers in the first quarter of that game.
"He should have led me a little more — well, a lot more," Finley said. "Really, he didn't throw it good at all, to be honest. He knows my game, coaches know my game. I'm more like a run and jump (receiver). I'm really not no back shoulder or whatever he had going on back there. They just have to know what kind of player I am and use me in that aspect of the game."
It was the low point of a disappointing first season for Finley. Through the first 14 games, Finley had three catches for 10 yards. Those numbers pale in comparison to his one childish quote and one trip to coach Mike McCarthy's doghouse.
Seven months later, all seemingly has been forgotten.
Finley finished the season in impressive fashion. Against Chicago in Week 16, he hauled in a 35-yard reception. In the finale against Detroit, he had a 29-yard catch and a 3-yard touchdown.
"Jermichael Finley just keeps getting better every time he takes the field," coach Mike McCarthy said after the Detroit game. "Everyone talks about the rookie wall. Jermichael Finley, when that wall was supposed to hit, he just kept getting better and better. I'm proud of him.
"He's a young man that has a bright future. He continues to work and get better, and it's nice to see him have success on Sundays because that's the type of player we've seen for quite some time during practice."
Then there's his new level of maturity. Even as a second-year player, Finley only turned 22 in March. He seems wiser for the experience of being a relative kid in a grown men's game last year.
"It was a big eye-opening experience," Finley said last week. "Saying what I said on Aaron, I got a lot of trash talking for that. It was a learning experience and I promise I won't do it again."
"I feel like the organization's got high expectations for me and they got big things in store for me," Finley said.
Perhaps those aren't so many empty words. Finley has been working overtime this offseason with tight ends coach Ben McAdoo. He's been practically unstoppable during practices. He's catching everything thrown his way. At 6-foot-5 and an athletic 245 pounds, he has all the ingredients necessary to develop into a big-time player.
"A world of difference," Finley said. "Last year, I was really just kind of overwhelmed with everything I was getting thrown in and thrown at. This year, I'm comfortable. I used to go into the huddle looking at A-Rod with 8-ball eyes. This year, I'm real relaxed and real comfortable."
Clearly, Finley has plenty to prove this season. Six catches for 74 yards and one touchdown wasn't much output last season. Worse, when the Packers traded out of the first round of the 2008 draft in a deal with the Jets, New York selected tight end Dustin Keller. Keller caught 48 passes for 535 yards and three touchdowns.
The Packers could have used their second-round pick acquired from the Jets on tight end John Carlson, who caught rookie tight end-highs of 55 passes, 627 yards and five touchdowns. Even Joey Haynos, who the Dolphins signed off the Packers' practice squad, scored a touchdown last season.
"Hopefully, we can get that end-of-the-year roll into the beginning of the year this year and get things rocking," Finley said.
Unlike last year, when Finley played a limited number of offensive snaps during the first half of the season and was featured only in special packages, he'll enter this training camp with a chance to earn a much larger role or even unseat incumbent starter Lee. McCarthy loves tight ends, and it's a position in which the Packers need more production than the combined 56 catches for 537 yards and six touchdowns they got last year from Lee, Finley and Humphrey.
"I give myself a B-minus, C-plus, somewhere along there," Finley said of last season. "This year, hopefully I can give myself an A, A-plus. I'm ready to roll, man."
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Bill also is giving Facebook and Twitter a try. Find him on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook.