GREEN BAY, Wis. -- For a guy who loves to talk and lights up every time a camera or microphone is in front of him, it had to be hard for Jermichael Finley to stand in front of his locker on Wednesday afternoon and be vanilla for 8 minutes.
But in his first extended session with reporters since training camp began, the Green Bay Packers tight end did exactly what coach Mike McCarthy wanted from Finley: He stayed on message. No more criticizing his teammates. No more talking about how he and quarterback Aaron Rodgers lack chemistry. No more jabs at opposing teams that will prompt players to call him an idiot, like Chicago Bears linebacker Lance Briggs did last December.
“When I’m out on the field, I talk when I’m supposed to talk,” Finley said. “Here, I’m just doing the right things, doing what I’m supposed to do and doing it the right way.”
In some ways, it has been a career-long battle to get the sixth-year tight end to fall in line, so there’s always reason to wonder when the 26-year-old will pop off again. Surely, that’s in the back of everyone in the organization’s minds, from coaches to public relations staffers.
Now, however, the team’s chief concern may be to get its ultra-athletic tight end going on the field. Five practices into training camp, Finley has gone largely unnoticed. He made a tough, twisting catch down the seam on a quick throw from Rodgers during a team period on Wednesday, but that was his lone highlight of the day.
“I don’t think the approach is any different,” McCarthy said when asked what is different about Finley this year. “Jermichael Finley loves football. He’s not in the media every day; that’s a good thing.”
McCarthy then tried to pass that last line off as a joke.
When the Packers paid Finley’s $3 million roster bonus in late March, it ensured that he would be one of the team’s highest-paid players in 2013 with total compensation of $8.25 million.
McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson banked on the idea that Finley would eventually mature and play more like he did in the final seven games of 2012, when he ranked third among NFL tight ends in receiving yards (396 during that stretch) and tied for fifth in receptions (32). Though his season was still somewhat of a disappointment, plagued by dropped passes (six according to ESPN Stats & Information), he still set a franchise record for tight ends with 61 receptions.
The Packers also hoped Finley would become a better all-around player. He once viewed himself as a receiver as much as a tight end, even dropping his weight into the 230s in 2011, but says he has committed to becoming a better blocker. To do so, he has put weight back on his 6-foot-5 frame -- he said about 10 pounds -- and probably is closer to the 247 pounds the Packers list him at.
“He’s stronger,” McCarthy said. “He’s back to the Jermichael Finley of ... what? I guess it would be 2009 or 2010. He’s where he needs to be. He’s in a very good place. I think he’s having a heck of a camp.”
It’s a contract year for Finley, whose last deal with the Packers ran just two years. Skeptics might say that’s why Finley is following the company line and took note that a few times during Finley’s cliché’-filled talk on Wednesday he fought back a smile.
“Just doing what I’m supposed to do,” Finley said. “Doing it the right way.”