Jermichael Finley leaned against a wall inside the Green Bay Packers locker room Friday afternoon, crossed his arms and shook his head. Kickoff of the first game of his fifth NFL season was about 48 hours away, and the usually talkative tight end wanted to make one thing crystal clear:
It’s time for him to put up or shut up.
Enough talk about how good he could be. It’s time to force people to start talking about how good he is. And that’s on him, not them.
“The potential thing is killing me right now,” Finley said following the team’s final practice in advance of Sunday’s regular-season opener against the San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field. “I’m tired of that, tired of hearing it. I’m just ready for my game to speak for itself. And do it for 16 consistent games.
“That’s the thing that chaps at me, the potential side of it.”
There has never been a doubt – not even in 2008, when he was a 21-year-old rookie third-round pick who was all raw potential and no production – about Finley’s talent. But consistency – by his own admission – has been his issue, the reason he’s yet to reach his vast potential.
There have been games when he’s been the most dominant player in the stadium (four career 100-yard games, including his franchise postseason-record 159-yard effort against Arizona in the 2009 NFC Wild Card playoffs) and games where he disappeared, games where he made breathtaking, how’d-he-do-that catches (his three-touchdown effort in Chicago last season) and games where he’s dropped multiple catchable passes – finishing with 13 last season, including the two he dropped in an NFC Divisional Playoff loss to the eventual Super Bowl-champion New York Giants.
The only explanation for so many dropped passes – from a guy whose own teammates will admit has some of the best hands around – is focus.
“You look at it, that’s 13 balls I should’ve had – balls that were catchable. I can do that in my sleep,” Finley said. “I think that (focus) is going to show itself. But it all starts with me. If me and ‘12’ are on point, we can have a record-breaking year. It’s all on us. Nobody else.”
The guy Finley refers to by number, of course, is quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the reigning NFL MVP and the triggerman of the league’s most potent passing game – one that’s infinitely more potent when Finley is on top of his game.
During the offseason, Finley spoke of playing like a “robot” last year, about needing to “freestyle” more, of not being able to “get the chemistry” with Rodgers. He talked about how vital it would be for him to get a full offseason and a full training camp with Rodgers so the two could get on the same page.
Instead, Finley’s training camp saw him have a concussion, a nearly three-week quadriceps injury and a baby, limiting him to only one preseason game and two series with Rodgers and the No. 1 offense. While the two practiced together a fair amount, was it enough?
“Yeah. Yes. Simple,” tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot said. “He’s ready. He got a good amount of work during the last preseason game. He practiced hard and got a lot of reps last week to get our timing back and work on certain looks against the (49ers) defense.
“Jermichael has a tremendous amount of talent. He’s a guy that’s going to be relied on in the offense, (even though) there are many a talented guys in this offense. I foresee us having a good season. Going into it with any other mentality would be cheating him, I think.”
While Finley said he believes he “got what I needed” out of training camp with Rodgers, he acknowledged that he needs to do more. He said he and Rodgers aren’t close off the field, but that doesn’t mean they can’t do a better job of improving their on-field relationship.
“It’s a, not weird relationship … I think it’s a good relationship, but ‘12’ has got his ways, I’ve got my ways. At the end of the day, we leave it to business on the field,” Finley said. “We don’t need an off-the-field relationship, we don’t have to speak every time we pass each other, but when we touch the grass, it’s all business and the relationship we’ve got on the grass is awesome.
“When I talk about ‘on the grass,’ I’m talking about football – film work, him talking to me, telling me what route and how to run it. That’s great. The relationship there is awesome.”
Twice in his career – in 2009 and again last season – Finley caught 55 passes in a season, one shy of Paul Coffman’s team record for a tight end. His 767 receiving yards last season were just short of Coffman’s team tight end-record of 814 yards.
But Finley has only put together one stretch of games that he feels truly demonstrated the player he can be. That came during the second half of the 2009 season, when he caught 44 passes for 575 yards and four touchdowns in the final seven games of the regular season and the playoff loss to the Cardinals, and the first four games of the 2010 season, when he caught 21 passes for 301 yards and a TD before suffering a season-ending knee injury.
“When he’s been healthy, he’s a potent weapon,” offensive coordinator Tom Clements said. “He has a lot of talent. He likes to play the game. He’s enthusiastic. He’s tough to handle.
“(Finley and Rodgers) work well together, and they communicate – and that’s the biggest thing. Aaron likes him to try to do things and he talks him through it, and Jermichael does his best to make sure he’s doing whatever Aaron wants.”
To that end, Finley said he plans on going back to what he did with Rodgers during that dominant stretch a few years ago.
“Right now, we’re trying to get to the point where we meet on Saturdays, where I go to his room (at the team hotel) and go over things,” Finley said. “That’s what we did in ’09. That’s when I was coming to his room late at night – not like that – but coming to his room late at night saying, ‘All right, what do I have to do to get the ball? What does ‘88’ have to do to get the ball?’ Not being selfish.
“That’s when we were hot. Actually, every day when I go home, I live and breathe football. The wife hates it, but that’s what I do. I think about 2009, and the start of that 2010 year, we were on. We couldn’t be stopped. And I feel it coming Sunday. I really do.
“I got my swagger back, I’ve got everything back I need Sunday. I think it’s going to be a great show. Seriously."