GREEN BAY, Wis. — This is an all-new Jermichael Finley. The most outspoken member of the Green Bay Packers has completely shifted his locker room demeanor and off-the-field attitude in recent months.
Over the past five years, when Finley has had something to say, he told anyone who would listen. The honest and straight-shooting tight end hadn’t yet acquired the filter that most NFL players eventually realize is necessary for sustaining a career.
Last season, Finley didn’t hide his true feelings when he felt a lack of chemistry with quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Finley repeated how chemistry was an issue between the two, emphasizing his points during an October 2012 locker room interview. That, of course, made headlines across the country. It also left Rodgers and other Packers players to deal with the fallout.
Before a divisional showdown with the rival Chicago Bears late last season, Finley took aim at the face of the franchise, Brian Urlacher. Finley told FOXSportsWisconsin.com that Urlacher was “playing a little slow out there” and that the Bears aren’t “losing too much if he’s out.” Finley was arguably spot-on with his analysis, as Urlacher was released by Chicago a few months later and then forced to retire when other teams didn’t show much interest. But that didn’t stop Finley’s quote from being one of the biggest talking points heading into that Week 15 matchup. It also led to Urlacher firing back at him and prompted Lance Briggs to call Finley “an idiot.”
Those are just a couple examples of Finley’s controversial remarks.
Now, Finley has completely changed his behavior. He’s declining interviews and, when talking to the media, is giving responses that would fit into Twitter’s 140-character limit.
“If I do what I’m supposed to do, everything else will take care of itself,” Finley said during minicamp. That isn’t a shortened quote from Finley. It was his entire answer.
Coach Mike McCarthy, who likely suffered a headache or two in the past when hearing of certain Finley comments, noticed a change in the 26-year-old already late last season.
“I really felt Jermichael Finley was a different man, a different player from the bye week on,” McCarthy said during his season-ending press conference in January. “I had an opportunity to talk to him about that at length in his exit interview, so I feel very good about the way he finished the year.
“There was a change in that young man.”
As Finley reported for offseason workouts in May and June, McCarthy was again impressed. But this time it was with Finley’s strength and overall physical appearance.
“I think Jermichael looks excellent,” McCarthy said during minicamp. “He’s put weight back on. He’s back where I like to see him, the playing weight that he’s playing with, and he’s stronger. He’s playing with more confidence. I really like the offseason that Jermichael has put together so far.”
Later that day in the locker room, Finley spoke briefly with reporters. The main interview topic was McCarthy’s positive assessment of him, but Finley even seemed cautious with his responses to that.
“It’s good to hear,” Finley said. “I feel good. Moving well right now and real confident in my play. It’s only minicamp right now. I like to hear that from him, but it’s minicamp.”
Given that McCarthy mentioned Finley’s added weight, the question was posed as to just how much weight it was. Finley avoided a firm response. Twice.
“I feel good; That’s all I can say,” Finley said. “I put on some weight, I’m moving well and I appreciate Coach for the confidence.”
A couple minutes later, Finley still had his guard up when asked again.
“My weight is at me feeling good and moving fast and physical, feeling healthy,” Finley said.
Weight is not typically a touchy subject for NFL players. Most will discuss it without hesitation. It’s not a secret. When the team and the league updates his player information, weight will be one of the top items. Yet, Finley wouldn’t get into it, even when McCarthy viewed it in a positive light.
This should come as a welcomed relief to Packers fans, many of whom have turned on Finley over the years. Whether it was Finley’s post-catch celebrations, his dropped passes or his sometimes brash statements, fans were tired of it all. Even though Finley broke the franchise record in 2012 for most catches by a tight end, it didn’t appear to matter to most of the people who packed the stands at Lambeau Field.
At the moment, Finley seems to care only about his performance on the field. Sure, he might be thinking about the fact that he’s in the last year of his current contract with Green Bay and will be a free agent next offseason, but a lucrative deal won’t be waiting for him then without having an impactful season first.
Finley used to talk openly about his desire to be mentioned in the same breath as elite tight ends like Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham and Vernon Davis. It’s not that Finley doesn’t still want that, but he’s approaching it much differently.
“No goal,” Finley said. “If I play my style of ball, everything else will fall in place and take care of itself at the end of it.”
This is a new world that Finley is living in. It’s a new challenge for him. The regular season is three months away and a lot can happen to change this new attitude between then and the playoffs. But, at least for now, it’s working.
“I feel strong right now; healthy,” Finley said. “I feel confident. I’m just excited.”