Green Bay Packers TE Jermichael Finley a popular target in return to action

Aug. 19, 2011

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Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley is upended by Arizona Cardinals safety Rashad Johnson after picking up a first down on a second-quarter pass play during Friday's game at Lambeau Field. / H. Marc Larson/Press-Gazette


Think Jermichael Finley isn’t going to be Aaron Rodgers’ go-to guy again?

His 2011 debut would suggest otherwise.

The Green Bay Packers tight end was Rodgers’ target on three straight plays when they went to the no-huddle offense in the second quarter of Friday’s preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals at Lambeau Field. Finley caught all three of them — a 6-yard out, a 7-yard quick hitter and a 17-yard crossing route — to help set up the only touchdown by the starting offense in a 28-20 victory.

“That’s big right there,” Finley said. “If your quarterback has confidence to throw you a ball, and you get 5 yards and then throw it again down the field for 15, that’s confidence in the player that you are.”

It was Finley’s first game action since Week 5 of last season, when he sustained a knee injury at Washington on Oct. 10. He sat out last Saturday’s preseason opener at Cleveland because of a glute bruise.

“It was all that I expected,” Finley said of his return. “I felt like the old (number) 88. I started getting revved up and heated up. I was really close to telling them to keep me in. I’ll play with (backup quarterback Matt) Flynn if I had to. It was one of those things that I had to get past me, and I got it past me, and I really do feel like I’m the old 88 right now.”

The day before his debut, Finley said he wanted to play only one series, presumably to avoid any further risk of injury, but he played three series against the Cardinals. He caught one ball, a 3-yard swing pass, on the second series and had another pass near the sideline thrown behind him and was broken up on that series. In all, he was targeted five times by Rodgers and had four catches for 33 yards.

“It was good to have him back,” Rodgers said. “He is a difference-maker for us. He is a tough matchup problem. I wish I would have thrown him a better ball on the corner route that got knocked away by (linebacker Joey) Porter. But it was nice to have him back out there. He’s going to have a big role for us this season.”

As for the remaining two preseason games, Finley said he wasn’t sure what the plan would be but suggested that maybe he wouldn’t play again before the Sept. 8 regular-season opener against New Orleans.

“Is it even worth going out there?” Finley said. “I’m going to go in tomorrow, talk to the trainers and doctors and get with my group of people and go over things, and we’ll see what we plan out from there.”

Thin line

The Packers’ already thin defensive line took another hit when defensive end C.J. Wilson dropped out of the game late in the first quarter because of a possible concussion.

Wilson started the game at right defensive end in place of Mike Neal, who sprained his left knee during a non-contact drill in practice on Tuesday.

Another defensive end, rookie seventh-round pick Lawrence Guy, didn’t dress because of lingering concussion symptoms.

The Packers took Wilson to the locker room during the second quarter for concussion testing, per the NFL’s rules on head injuries. Coach Mike McCarthy said another defensive end, first-year player Jay Ross, also was “a little banged up.”

Depending on when Neal and Wilson return, the Packers may have to sign another defensive end.

“We’ll adjust accordingly next week, regardless of the position,” McCarthy said.

The only other injury announced by the team was to rookie receiver Randall Cobb, who sustained a left knee bruise while returning a kick in the second half.

Practice makes perfect

Chastin West had run the play dozens of times — in practice.

But this time it was for real — or at least as real as a preseason game is.

From his own 3-yard line, West ran a go route, beat Cardinals rookie cornerback Desia Dunn and turned it into a catch-and-run 97-yard touchdown from Flynn on the first play of the fourth quarter.

“That’s a lot of practice squad stuff right there,” said West, who spent all of last season on the practice squad. “We did that a lot last year.”

The route initially was a hitch but when the Cardinals showed pressure and Dunn came up to the line to press, he turned it up the field.

“It was just a three-step drop,” McCarthy said. “Chastin did a really good job running an adjustment, and (Flynn) gave him a good ball, and he finished it.”

West may be pushing Swain for the final receiver spot if the Packers decide to keep six at that position. He had five catches for 134 yards against the Cardinals.

Sitting out

The Packers held out 12 players, but there were no surprises among the group.

Clay Matthews, who experienced soreness and tightness in his hamstring and missed practice on Thursday, didn’t play. Joining him in street clothes were: receiver Shaky Smithson (shoulder), receiver Brett Swain (hamstring), safety Brandon Underwood (knee), cornerback Davon House (hamstring), safety Anthony Levine (concussion), tight end Spencer Havner (hamstring), running back James Starks (ankle), guard Adrian Battles (Achilles), tackle Chris Campbell (knee), Guy (concussion) and Neal (knee).

The Cardinals scratched only five players, including starting strong safety Adrian Wilson (torn biceps) and starting tight end Todd Heap (sprained thumb).

Odds and ends

Though T.J. Lang started at left guard and appeared for the second straight week to outperform rookie Derek Sherrod, who allowed a sack, Rodgers said he didn’t think the competition would be decided until the preseason finale on Sept. 1 against Kansas City. … The Packers will have a rare two days off from practice this weekend. They return to the field on Monday at 11:15 a.m. for the first of three straight days of scheduled full pads practices in advance of Friday’s preseason third preseason game at Indianapolis. and follow him on Twitter @RobDemovsky.

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