Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley grabs a pass in front of cornerback Davon House on Tuesday during minicamp practice at Ray Nitschke Field. H. Marc Larson/Press-Gazette
Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley isn’t afraid to speak his mind.
As a rookie, he had the audacity to criticize quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He got embroiled in the Packers’ Super Bowl team photo flap, has occasionally questioned his role in the offense and has said things that some perceive to be selfish.
More than a few observers believe Finley is a loose cannon who cares more about individual statistics than team goals.
Finley begs to differ.
“There’s a lot of people out there that don’t know me, don’t know what I go through on a day-to-day basis,” said Finley on Tuesday following the Packers’ mandatory minicamp practice. “It’s just being confident and just being comfortable in myself. It’s no individual. If you know me, I’m slapping hands every (chance) I get. I try to speak to everybody. Every time you pass me I’m speaking to you. They probably get tired of me saying, ‘What’s up, hello.’ I’m far from an individual.”
Finley said he’s misunderstood, but he won’t change who he is. While Finley’s confidence — bordering on cockiness — rubs some people the wrong way, his coaches steadfastly support him.
“The kid has talent, and more than anything he’s got a burning desire to succeed,” said Packers tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot. “Jermichael, (what) you learn very quickly about him is that he’s got an enthusiasm that rarely shows up in guys with that kind of ability.”
If the Packers had a problem with Finley’s personality, it didn’t show when they offered him a two-year contract extension during the offseason that will pay him $7 million per season.
Maybe behind closed doors members of the coaching staff cringe when Finley opens his mouth, but they have come to accept his outgoing, flamboyant attitude.
“There’s different personalities throughout your football team,” said Packers coach Mike McCarthy on Tuesday when asked about Finley. “Him and I are different in that way, obviously. But he means well.”
While Finley’s words might get twisted or his exuberance misinterpreted, McCarthy firmly believes Finley’s heart is in the right place. And as the man in charge of keeping his finger on the pulse of his team, McCarthy should know better than anyone.
McCarthy doesn’t have a problem when Finley says: “I’m just a guy that’s trying to do what I can to be great.”
Or when Finley proclaims: “If there’s any guy you want on your team, it’s me. I add an extra day, I work 24-8. … I’ve always been saying it. You want me on your team, guaranteed.”
Some choose to use those words as evidence that Finley is stuck on himself. McCarthy and his staff have concluded that Finley simply wants to use his talents to the fullest.
“Jermichael is an energetic young man,” McCarthy said. “Very expressive in the way he goes about his business. He’s extremely talented. It’s been rewarding to watch him grow in all aspects. I think he’s having an excellent offseason. He’s in great shape.”
That’s not surprising, since Finley is a workout warrior and rarely takes a day off.
“I need to … learn how to pull that horse’s neck back sometimes,” Finley said. “Not put it on cruise control, but learn how to practice. With me, I go 100 percent every time. It’s not bad, but it can hinder you at the end of it because of fatigue.”
Finley had 55 catches last season and career highs in receiving yards (767) and touchdowns (eight). But he wants better production, which is one reason he takes practices very seriously.
“He isn’t afraid to mix it up with anyone,” Fontenot said. “He’s the kind of guy that always goes out there with the mentality he wants to be better. He believes he can be better. At times it might rub some opponents the wrong way. But you know, that’s the way he is. He plays with a tremendous amount of eagerness and with confidence.”
Finley wants to fly to California before training camp and spend a few days with Rodgers, although he hasn’t worked out the details. “Hopefully it turns out to be a great chemistry thing,” he said.
Finley admits he dropped too many passes last season. One solution is to get his hands up sooner.
“It just seemed to me like his hands weren’t entirely ready to catch the football,” Fontenot said. “That’s something we’ve been focusing on.”
Finley is entering his fifth NFL season but just turned 25 in March. He maintains a childlike enthusiasm for the game and hopes to play for a long time.
“I feel like a rookie,” he said. “My mindset and everything else is like a rookie. It’s like I just got here. But at the same time, you don’t ever let it slip away. You’ve always got to keep that hunger and that fun into it.”
Not even his harshest critics could find fault with that.
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MikeVandermause.