Every Day Is TGIF For Finley

Third-year tight end Jermichael Finley has no shortage of self-confidence and big-play ability. So, it's not surprising when he says TGIF stands for "Thank God It's Finley" — nor is it surprising that nobody in the locker room seems to mind his brashness.

Fridays are great.

Jermichael Finley might be better.

"TGIF, baby — Thank God it's Finley," the brash, entertaining and uber-talented tight end told Packer Report this week. "I'm a go-to guy. I'm not being selfish or anything like that. If it comes to clutch time, I'm there, for sure. Everybody thinks I'm conceited and whatnot, but that's my personality. I just love the game and love to make plays."

In a put-up-or-shut-up second NFL season last year, Finley caught 55 passes for 676 yards and five touchdowns despite missing three games and most of a fourth with a knee sprain. Down the stretch, The Big Fella — as Aaron Rodgers tends to call Finley — was practically unstoppable. He had seven catches apiece vs. San Francisco and Baltimore, nine against Pittsburgh and his remarkable six catches for 159 yards in the playoff loss at Arizona.

A matchup nightmare at 6-foot-5, can anyone stop Finley?

"No, that's not my mind-set," Finley said. "My mind-set is up here (raising hand over his head). Anytime I step on the field, practice or game, whatever I'm doing, I've got to beat my opponent. I don't care who it is. That's just my mind-set. I've been like that since I was a toddler."

With an embarrassment of riches at his disposal, Rodgers' spread-it-around philosophy might prevent Finley from posting similar numbers to the Colts' Dallas Clark (100 catches, 1,106 yards, 10 touchdowns last season), the Cowboys' Jason Witten (94, 1,030 and two), the Falcons' Tony Gonzalez (83, 867, six), the Chargers' Antonio Gates (79, 1,157, eight) or the Niners' Vernon Davis (78, 965, 13). But that doesn't mean Finley can't take the next step and join those guys in the pantheon of the game's top tight ends. Finley caught 77.5 percent of the passes thrown his way last season, a rate that shows he can post monster numbers without being force-fed the ball.

"His opportunities will come. In some games, he'll have more than others," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "I don't think it's a matter of we can't be successful unless he catches eight passes a game. I think he has to understand his role in the offense. He's a valuable member. He can make impact. We'll certainly look for those opportunities. But at the same point in time, he has other functions that he's got to get done that are equally important. We're not going to sit back and chuck the ball every play to Jermichael Finley. We're not going to do that."

More often than not, Finley has been the best offensive skill player on the practice field during training camp. That dominance is the byproduct of a number of things, from his growing chemistry with Rodgers to an intense offseason that included training with Larry Fitzgerald and a month's worth of boxing at a club back in Austin, Texas, to get him in shape.

Jermichael Finley
Tom Dahlin/Getty Images
"If I mess up on something," Finley said, "(Rodgers is) going to tell me, ‘You're doing this wrong. Come back (to the ball).' He's going to tell me the way I should go, and that's what I love about him. I think he's the best quarterback in the league."

That, of course, wasn't what Finley was saying about Rodgers during a midseason game at Tennessee in 2008. That's when the brash tight end who had accomplished exactly nothing during his rookie season lit into Rodgers and coach Mike McCarthy for not knowing how to maximize his skills.

That was practically a lifetime ago, though. Even as a third-year pro, Finley only turned 23 on March 26. He played just two seasons at Texas, and concerns about his maturity caused him to fall deep into the third round, where the Packers grabbed him with the 91st overall selection.

"We value Alonzo Highsmith, who does that area, and he obviously had done him first," general manager Ted Thompson said of the scout. "He was a late ‘do' because when I was in there in the fall I wouldn't have done him because he was a junior and we don't do juniors as a rule. But once you get past the bowl season and guys start declaring, you start watching tape and doing your homework. He is a very talented guy and he thinks he can play, which I think really good ones do."

Along with his obviously improved maturity, Finley has worked diligently to improve his weaknesses. During a blocking drill on Tuesday, he battled hard-nosed run-stopping linebacker Brady Poppinga to a draw until putting him to the turf. When diving at dummies meant to simulate taking out linebackers or defensive backs at the knees, Finley blocked with an explosiveness that drew kudos from the offensive line coaches running the drill.

"He's improved tremendously at blocking since the day he got here," tight ends coach Ben McAdoo said. "It's important to him, and he's continuing to work to get better in that area. He's not a polished blocker by any stretch of the imagination, and I think he would admit that to you. I hope he would. But that's something we continue to work on there."

As long as Finley continues to work hard and produces, his teammates and the coaches will live with his supreme self-confidence and his penchant for saying just a little bit more than the team would prefer.

"It's not based on garbage," running back Ryan Grant said. "It's not one of those that it's based on nothing or anything like that due to a level of ignorance. He has that confidence because he knows what he's putting in, he sees it. He feels like he's the best tight end in the league, and I've seen him make plays sometimes that will kind of support that statement."

Finley has lofty goals this season, including winning the Super Bowl and fielding the NFL's highest-scoring offense. But, with Finley just one bullet in a chamber that includes Grant in the running game and one of the NFL's deepest receiving corps, he'll have to live with the occasional monster game that serves notice that he's a budding superstar and an impossible matchup.

"Of course I want to be the best tight end, Pro Bowl, all the accolades you can get," Finley said. "The numbers, they'll come if (Rodgers) shines and our receiving corps shines. If they shine, the receiving numbers will come, no doubt. I would like to get 1,200 (yards)."

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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 and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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