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Thursday, October 17, 2013
How Jermichael Finley's role might change

By Rob Demovsky

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- There was a time not all that long ago when Jermichael Finley wanted to be treated like a wide receiver both on the field and at the negotiating table.

In 2011, the Green Bay Packers' 6-foot-5 tight end slimmed down in order to play like a receiver.

Then, when it appeared general manager Ted Thompson might use the franchise tag on Finley following that season, Finley and his agent were prepared to argue that he should be paid as a receiver and not a tight end. The difference in tags for a tight end and a receiver was about $4 million.

Though it never came to that because Finley agreed to a two-year, $14-million contract, he would have had a good argument given that he lined up in the slot (21.1 percent of his snaps) or split out wide (25.3 percent of his snaps) almost half the time that season, according to ProFootballFocus.

Considering that the Packers will be without slot receiver Randall Cobb (fractured fibula) for at least the next eight weeks, it’s worth wondering if coach Mike McCarthy is planning to turn Finley back into more of an off-the-line tight end.

“The way we organize our offense and the way we scheme defenses is that we want the best matchups possible,” tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot said Thursday. “Regardless of who’s on the field, we feel like having a big body and a fast body running across the middle is advantageous to our passing game, and a guy that can run block as well. It’s kind of hard to say if there’s been a trend because we really try not to. We try to use him in as many different positions as possible.”

The Packers have actually used him in the slot more often this season -- 32.7 percent of his snaps, according to PFF -- than in 2011 (21.1 percent) or 2012 (25.7 percent), but less split out wide (13.1 percent this season compared to 25.3 percent in 2011 and 15.1 percent in 2012).

“I look at myself as a playmaker, period,” Finley said. “Not a receiver, not a tight end. Wherever they put me I’m going to try to make plays.”

Finley said he would not ask to play more off the line of scrimmage, nor did he think the Packers would do so.

Still, they are going to need to replace the threat that Cobb gave them over the middle of the field. Receivers James Jones and Jordy Nelson have played the majority of their snaps on the outside. Of the two, Nelson would be more likely to move into the slot. Jarrett Boykin, who has played sparingly this season, also is more of an outside receiver.

The loss of Cobb makes it more likely that defensive coordinators will try to double team Finley.

“You know that teams are going to be scheming on me, trying to take away the middle and get our outside receivers working,” said Finley, who has 20 catches for 228 yards and two touchdowns this season.

Said Fontenot: “I would think that whatever Jermichael gets, they’re going to try to disrupt the flow of him running routes. That’s not a secret. I think that most teams in the NFL, if you tried to shut down any one receiver, that’s probably how you’re going to do it -- disrupt the flow of how they run their routes. And double teams is a good way to do that. Putting your best defender on that player can be another way to do it. But again, there are tools to beat those things, so that’s what we’re focused on.”