NFC North: Danny Lansanah
|AP Photo/Morry Gash|
|Tight end Jermichael Finley seems poised to have a breakout season.|
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- All I could see from my vantage point was the No. 58 on the back of reserve linebacker Danny Lansanah's jersey. I knew there was someone standing behind him in the back of the end zone, and I saw that person's hands reach over Lansahah's head to snatch an Aaron Rodgers pass.
I couldn't see the number, but I had no doubt who it was. Over two days of Green Bay's training camp, after all, I had already seen tight end Jermichael Finley make two similar catches and a host of other "wow" plays. I'd already had a number of people insist that Finley is poised to be one of the Packers' breakout stars this season, someone who is as comfortable on the line of scrimmage as he is split out wide and who could force significant changes in the way defenses approach their offense.
Everything I've seen so far leads me to agree. Finley has rebounded from a shaky rookie season, one the Packers have attributed to immaturity. Built like an NBA small forward, Finley's speed and athletic ability have made him "unguardable" during practice, Rodgers said Friday. And coach Mike McCarthy said Finley's blocking skills have improved to the point where he can be deployed in any formation and for any role.
"I'm just excited and confident with what I'm about to get into," said Finley, a third-round draft choice out of Texas last season. "When I was at Texas, I used to look at Texas Tech's [passing scheme] and say, 'Man, I would love to have that offense.' And now, basically, it's come true. I'm just going to love it this year when the real games come."
Said Packers general manager Ted Thompson: "Historically the tight end has been huge in the classic West Coast offenses and I think sometimes we've gotten away from that a little bit. The idea is to get back to using those guys. It's difficult for defensive backs. Your skill guys outside are busy trying to handle [Donald] Driver and [Greg] Jennings."
Finley left Texas as an underclassman and didn't turn 22 until 3 1/2 months ago. His adjustment to NFL life was steep. He hit one particularly egregious bump after criticizing Rodgers and the Packers' offensive coaches after a close loss at Tennessee. Suffice it to say that all has been forgiven.
"It's nice when they grow up," McCarthy said. "He was just so young last year. ... When you think about it, that's just a part of developing young players. He's a talented player and loves football. I love the way he plays, with great passion and energy."
Indeed, Finley is like an energetic kid on the practice field, bounding from drill to drill. I've seen him line up as the solo tight end and as part of a double-tight package. He's been a so-called "H-back," has been positioned in the slot and even split out on the far sideline. Everything looks natural and his soft hands rarely betray him. Even the Packers defenders who can stay with him have no chance to touch the ball before he does.
It's harder to judge Finley's blocking without knowing specific assignments, but McCarthy said he "absolutely" feels comfortable using him in any blocking situation.
"When I first got in here," Finley said. "The big thing that everybody was talking about me was that I was just a pass-catching tight end. I think even as last year went on, I progressed in that area. It's a good thing I came out the way I did, because it made me work for that. Now, I grade my blocking as an A+ right now. I just told myself to bunker down and make it my priority. I know that if I go out for a catch, I know I can do that. The challenge was my blocking."
Donald Lee remains the Packers' No. 1 tight end, but from what I saw Finley is essentially 1a. I imagine that starting lineups will be a function of gameplans as much as anything else, but there is little doubt Finley will have ample opportunity to impact the offense this season.
We've already noted on several occasions the exciting NFC North possibilities presented by the arrival of Rodgers, Chicago's Jay Cutler and Detroit's Matthew Stafford at the quarterback position. Well, the young tight ends in this division are equally intriguing. Between Finley, Greg Olsen of the Bears, Brandon Pettigrew of the Lions and Visanthe Shiancoe of the Vikings, I think we'll have quite a competition for the first-team all-Black and Blue team in January.
For those of you are foaming for more Packers coverage, chill out and be patient. I'll be at the Family Night scrimmage on Saturday and will post my official Camp Confidential report Sunday morning. Early next week, I'll have some thoughts on Rodgers as well as the Packers' defensive transition.
We've engaged in plenty of discussion the past two weeks about the youth of Green Bay's defense, especially when it comes to some of the replacements the Packers have used in response to a series of injuries.
On Wednesday, Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette casts a critical eye toward one of the team's top veterans -- defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, who hasn't produced so much as a quarterback pressure since Sept. 14 at Detroit. Overall, Gbaja-Biamila has a half-sack to his credit and isn't a viable option as a situational pass rusher.
Gbaja-Biamila has been dealing with knee and ankle injuries, but last week the Packers removed him from their injury report. Defensive ends coach Carl Hairston said: "He's not as explosive as he used to be. It's going to take a little time and repetitions to get that back."
Gbaja-Biamila is 32, however, and Demovsky questions whether he is simply done as a feared pass rusher. If so, it appears unlikely the Packers would bring him back next season; already, they're paying him a base salary of $6.15 for 2008 that was guaranteed when he was a part of the roster on opening weekend.
Continuing our be-bop around the NFC North:
- The Packers promoted linebacker Danny Lansanah from the practice squad Tuesday when the Miami Dolphins tried to sign him, according to Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Veteran linebacker Tracy White was released to create a roster spot.
- Mike O'Hara of the Detroit News wonders if the Lions could finish 0-16 and places odds on the chances of them winning each of their remaining games. Their chances of defeating Minnesota this Sunday at the Metrodome: Six percent. (They haven't won in Minnesota since 1997).
- At this point, Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com doesn't see the Lions paying cornerback Leigh Bodden a roster bonus of $8.6 million due this offseason.
- David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune offers a Bears primer for Chicago sports fans who have been distracted by the city's baseball teams. Among the points: The Bears' offensive line has performed better than expected.
- "We're headed to the Super Bowl." That's what Bears defensive end Mark Anderson believes, according to Mike Mulligan of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune details the Vikings' system-wide special teams failure Monday night. Overall, the Vikings rank last in the NFL in punt coverage and 30th in kickoff coverage.
- During our chat Tuesday over at SportsNation, a few people asked about Vikings cornerback Cedric Griffin's violent hit on New Orleans tight end Billy Miller. The league won't fine Griffin, according to Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, because Miller had established himself as a runner and thus was in position to defend himself.
We'll use the blog today as a clearinghouse for all NFC North practice squad news. (Wow. There's a sentence you might not have read before.)
We expect teams to announce their lists throughout the day Sunday, so check back this afternoon and evening.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
- WR Jake Allen
- C Brennen Carvalho
- TE Joey Haynos
- LB Danny Lansanah
- DT Alfred Malone
- CB Joe Porter
- WR Brett Swain
- RB DeShawn Wynn
Of note: The Packers released Wynn during the first round of roster cuts, but he did start four games last season and gives them an excellent internal insurance policy should an injury occur elsewhere. Haynos is an interesting physical prospect at 6-foot-8 and should at least give the Packers' defense a good look on the scout team.
- LB Darnell Bing
- OL Matt Butler
- RB Allen Ervin
- WR Eric Fowler
- QB Drew Henson
- S LaMarcus Hicks
- WR Kenneth Moore
Of note: The Lions made two other roster moves, signing linebacker Ryan Nece and claiming runing back Marcus Thomas off waivers. Thomas, a fifth-round pick of San Diego this year, gives the Lions a third tailback behind Kevin Smith and Tatum Bell. To make room for Nece and Thomas, the Lions released linebacker Anthony Cannon and fullback/tight end Sean McHugh.