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Packers turn down volume on Finley

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By Tyler Dunne
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
August 1, 2013

GREEN BAY--One week into training camp, you could say that Jermichael Finley is making the Green Bay Packers quite … “comfortable.”

Take Wednesday, the first time the Packers tight end met with reporters.

During the open locker-room session, a public relations official picked off Finley as soon as he appeared and followed him to his locker and back into the bathroom area to speak to Finley as the 26-year-old brushed his teeth. They reappeared. The interview began. And throughout the seven-minute interview session, the P.R. member leaned in to listen.

Yes, the world might be treated to a much quieter Jermichael Finley in 2013. Not that it’s, um, by design or anything.

“It just happened,” Finley said. “I’m not trying to do it. It’s not something on my mind every day. I’m just getting better every day and doing what I’m supposed to, do it the right way.”

This was one point of hesitation for the Packers when they decided to keep Finley at his $8.25 million salary last off-season. One source indicated Green Bay was “uncomfortable” with paying Finley his $3 million roster bonus in March. General manager Ted Thompson, coach Mike McCarthy and the Packers eventually conceded that they couldn’t let a 6-foot-5 athletic specimen walk.

The decision did, however, go down to the wire.

So gather ‘round and meet the new Finley. Quiet, reserved, devoid of bold, 72-point, all-caps headlines of years past. At least for now, Finley plans to bite his tongue and play football. Six times Wednesday Finley repeated “everything will take care of itself.”

How toxic Finley’s comments actually are is debatable. Rather, he often forgets the magnitude of his words.

His 2011 take on Tim Tebow coverage—“disturbing”— was quite accurate. His 2012 take on Brian Urlacher—that the Bears are better off without him—was justified by the Bears themselves. After 13 seasons, Chicago waved goodbye to the plodding, aging linebacker. The harsh criticism of Aaron Rodgers midway through the season? A tad more tact wouldn’t have hurt.

Now, in a contract year, Finley is toning it down. Wednesday might be a sign of what’s to come.

“He’s not in the media every day, that’s a good thing,” said McCarthy, smiling. “That was a joke. But Jermichael loves football. He pours a lot into it. His off-season training outside the building is top-notch as far as the time he spends in Arizona and over there in Minneapolis.

“He’s where he needs to be, he’s in a very good place. I think he’s having a heck of a camp.”

Finley already ranks third all-time for most receiving yards by a Packers tight end (2,485). For three-plus years, the Packers have been treated to glimpses, if not stretches, of dominance rarely seen at the position. Finley abused the Arizona Cardinals for 159 yards in the 2009 wild-card playoff loss and was off to a torrid start in 2010 before tearing his meniscus.

The two seasons since? Uneven. Last year, Finley was plagued by drops and consequently ignored by his quarterback before finishing strong. Over Finley’s final seven games, he caught 32 passes for 396 yards. And with that, the Packers signed his check.

This summer, Finley added noticeable bulk. The tight end wouldn’t offer his exact weight but said he is about 10 pounds heavier. Finley does not believe he sacrificed speed or athleticism in the process.

“You see me every day. You tell me,” Finley said. “I’m feeling great and moving well right now. If I do what I’m supposed to do, I’ll be good.”

Critics did dent Finley’s psyche through his September and October lull. As some fans yelled, “Hey, don’t drop your keys!” to Finley in public, drops accumulated. Focusing on football, he’s hoping to eliminate the noise and eliminate the pressure he put on himself.

“It’s a feeling you feel every day—you know what I mean?—when you come into work,” Finley said. “But at the end of the day, it’s playing football. And just doing things the right way and everything else will take care of itself.”

After multiple questions Wednesday, Finley flashed an I-know-exactly-what-I’m-doing grin.. He acknowledged the lame, tame emptiness of his answers. Last off-season, Finley expressed the need to “freestyle,” to carry himself with a swagger. It remains to be seen if this muzzle—induced by Finley, the Packers or some combination of the two—is a good thing.

Some teams let players be themselves. Colorful comments don’t prompt a visit to the principal’s office.

Somehow, Finley will try to keep the swagger on the field and stay quiet off it.

“When I’m out on the field, I talk when I’m supposed to talk,” he said. “Here, I’m just doing the right things, doing what I’m supposed to do and doing it the right way.”

In an office somewhere at Lambeau Field, you can practically see McCarthy and Thompson, arms crossed, nodding in approval. This time last year, Finley said he wanted to be in the class of Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham. Elite. A star. One of the best tight ends in the game.

On Wednesday, there were no such grandiose statements.

In his flat-brim Milwaukee Brewers hat and white V-neck shirt, Finley reigned in the rhetoric.

Sure, the ceiling remains high. But seek the sound bites elsewhere.

“If I do what I’m supposed to do,” Finley repeated, “everything else will take care of itself.”



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