Two summers ago, Jermichael Finley stood on a football field in Minnesota, transformed.
The Green Bay Packers tight end had missed most of the team’s Super Bowl XLV championship run of 2010 with a season-ending knee injury suffered in the fifth game of the year, and by July, the lockout had wiped out the entire offseason. So when Finley was found in Minneapolis, training with Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald at Fitzgerald’s now legendary offseason workout sessions, he certainly looked different.
In fact, Finley himself confessed that the Packers probably weren’t going to be all that excited about seeing the lithe, sleek physique that made him look more like a wide receiver and less like a tight end.
“I’m thinner right now. GB (is) probably not (going to) like me right now but I’m trying to stand up this year. I’m not going to sugarcoat it,” Finley told then-Minneapolis Star Tribune writer Judd Zulgad. “I think (lining up in) a two-point (stance), I can get on the linebacker quicker, I can get on the safety quicker and it’s a win-win for me and 12 (quarterback Aaron Rodgers).”
Finley also said a few other Finley-esque things that day – he predicted a Super Bowl XLVI berth and guaranteed he’d be a focus of the offense in 2011, which also happened to be a contract year for him – that made headlines. But on Tuesday, the first day of the Packers’ mandatory minicamp, Finley looked and sounded very different.
For one, there were no brash pronouncements. His answers during a Q&A session at his locker with reporters were brief. And when the topic of his weight was broached, he didn’t want to discuss it, even though coach Mike McCarthy had just praised him for it moments earlier.
“I think Jermichael looks excellent. He’s put weight back on. He’s back where I like to see him, the playing weight that he’s playing with, and he’s stronger, he’s playing with more confidence,” McCarthy gushed after practice. “I thought he was excellent in the 2-minute drill today. I really like the offseason that Jermichael has put together so far.”
Finley, who’s officially listed at 6-foot-5 and 247 pounds, shrugged off the praise, pointing out that it’s only June.
“It's only minicamp right now. I like to hear that from him, but it's minicamp,” Finley said of McCarthy’s comments. “I feel good, man. That's all I can say. I put on some weight, I'm moving well and I appreciate Coach for the confidence.
“I look back to the 2009 and 2010 seasons and saw that I was playing well, moving well and my hand strength was pretty strong. I wasn't focused on it, but I felt good at it, so why not move up (on the scale)? I feel strong right now, healthy. I feel confident. I'm just excited.”
Finley also said he didn’t intentionally change his offseason regimen and said he continued working out with Fitzgerald in the Twin Cities, where he spends much of his offseason.
“Pretty much the same thing I've been doing and that's, of course, working out with Larry (Fitzgerald) and working out in Minny with my guy, my doctor, and just focusing on what I've got to do this season,” he said. “That's just helping the team win and playing my style of ball."
Finley finished last season with a flourish, setting a team single-season reception record for tight ends with 61 but was still inconsistent on the year. The coaches hope he parlays a strong finish into a breakthrough 2013, realizing his vast potential. Getting back to the 2009 form he had – remember his breakout 159-yard performance in the team’s NFC Wild Card playoff loss to Arizona? – is in part related to reshaping his body again.
“In compared to the way he looked last year, I’d say he’s put on a few pounds. He’s gotten a little bit stronger. (And yet) to me, he looks every bit as fast if not faster than he did was last year at this time,” tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot said. “Mentally, he’s done a great job of preparing himself. I thought we came into this offseason a little more confident than we did last year. We still have a long ways to go. We still have things we need to improve on before the season begins. Fortunately, we’ve put a lot of good work in this offseason, but it’s not over. We have two more weeks left to get ready for training camp at the end of this offseason program. There’s still room for improvement.
“I think last season he was a little bit lighter than I would have liked to see him. We kind of went back over some tape of when he was heavier and showed it to him, and kept reiterating some of the things he used to do when he had a little more strength on him and a little more muscle. With everything, you just try to be very careful. It’s fine-tuning. It’s not making drastic changes, certainly with a guy like him who’s so athletic, so much upside you don’t want to inhibit him by giving him too much, having him take it overboard.”
It could be argued that Finley at times has gone overboard in what he’s said to the media – it could also be said that reporters know he’ll be good for a handful of headline-grabbing comments per season – but he came nowhere close to doing so Tuesday. While he may be getting back to his 2009 physique, perhaps he’s taking a new approach in other areas. The Packers paid him a $3 million roster bonus in March – bringing his 2013 compensation to $8.25 million – and with unrestricted free agency on the horizon, maybe he’s running a new route.
“If I play my style of ball, everything else will fall in place and take care of itself at the end of it,” he said. “My weight is at (a number where it’s) me feeling good and moving fast and physical, feeling healthy. If I do what I'm supposed to do, everything else will take care of itself.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.