GREEN BAY, Wis. — Jermichael Finley believes he’s ready to take his game to the next level, but there’s one issue standing in the way of that happening for the Packers’ talented young tight end: a lack of chemistry with quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Finley admits he struggled getting on the same page last season with the league’s MVP.
“I’m not blaming it on my offseason, but me and the QB didn’t have chemistry,” Finley said this week after a Packers OTA practice. “The routes were off sometimes, and that’ll mess with your head when the ball comes.”
Finley led Green Bay in drops with 12, the most among NFL tight ends. With his 55 receptions last season, that put Finley’s drop rate at 17.91 percent. According to ProFootballFocus.com, the only player in the league with a higher drop rate was Cleveland Browns rookie wide receiver Greg Little.
Despite the drops, Finley is an elite athlete who just turned 25 and appears to have the ability to become a dominating force on offense. It was with that in mind that the Packers gave Finley a two-year, $15 million extension this offseason.
“Catching comes second-nature to me,” Finley said. “All I’ve got to do is focus a little bit more. I know I can catch the ball. I know I’m going to catch the ball this year — for sure I’m going to catch it.
“I feel like I’ve been playing like a robot lately. I just need to get out there and freestyle it: Play fast, not count my steps, not worrying about how the defense is playing me or what the defense is doing and just ‘do me.’ If I do me, it can take my game to the next level.
“That’s where I struggle. I get out there and think too much. If you go out there with too much on your head, it can mess up your game.”
Finley missed the majority of Green Bay’s Super-Bowl winning year in 2010 after suffering a season-ending knee injury in Week 5. During his 2011 contract year, Finley wanted to have a healthy season to prove that his knees wouldn’t be an issue moving forward, but those lingering thoughts did have a negative effect on his play.
“Every time somebody got around my legs, I was like, ‘Watch out,’ ” Finley said. “I was thinking about that next injury. I can say it was because of the injury last year, for sure.
“I couldn’t get the chemistry with the QB.”
Finley’s best game last season came in Week 3 at Chicago when Rodgers found him in the end zone three times. But even after that game, whether it was for motivational reasons or just speaking candidly, Rodgers used the postgame press conference to point out a few mistakes Finley made rather than gush with high praise for his three-touchdown performance.
But with a normal offseason schedule currently in progress, as opposed to last year’s lockout-truncated version, Finley sees 2012 as the season when he and Rodgers will start clicking.
“If you go over the years I’ve done well, we had an offseason program, we had minicamps, we had training camps,” Finley said. “So, we had three processes that we were going through for us to get the chemistry. This year, I feel it and it’s going to be a good one. I guarantee it.”
Finley has spent much of his offseason working out with Arizona Cardinals star receiver Larry Fitzgerald. With Finley going on passing routes on 65 percent of his snaps last season, according to data from ProFootballFocus.com, he plays similar to a wide receiver anyway and wants to pattern his game accordingly.
“I try to mimic what (Fitzgerald) does,” Finley said. “I think that meant a lot, being with a lot of receivers and doing all the receiver drills and catching drills.”
However, Finley is still technically a tight end. And with New England’s Rob Gronkowski and New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham getting most of the attention last season, Finley wants to change that.
“If I let my game speak for itself, I can take this league over at the position,” Finley said. “I know Gronk and Jimmy Graham, they did well last year. But in this league, you’ve got to do it consistently. If you’ve shown that you can do it one time, you have to come back and do it. They’re going to have to show me something.
“I’m not trying to beat them or see what I can do better than them, but they’re going to have to show me a little more.”
But for Finley to surpass Gronkowski and Graham, he’ll first have to build chemistry with Rodgers. If they’re able to do that, considering all the other weapons at Rodgers’ disposal, such as receivers Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, Finley could have a breakout season.
“I’m excited to be playing with a quarterback like Aaron,” Finley said. “The scheme they’ve got set for us, it’s pretty deadly. Only we can stop ourselves. It’s going to be a good one this year.
“It’s going to be an awesome ride, I’ll tell you that.”