If healthy, super-talented TE Finley can be best in NFL

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Finley says that if he makes it through this season healthy he'd 'change the tight end position.' (US Presswire)  
Finley says that if he makes it through this season healthy he'd 'change the tight end position.' (US Presswire)  

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It was hours before the Green Bay Packers' first practice of training camp when tight end Jermichael Finley stepped in front of reporters and announced that if he makes it through this season without missing a game he would "change the tight end position."

Then came the exclamation point.

"I guarantee it," he said.

I didn't know what he meant then, but I do now. I attended practice the next two nights and saw the future of the tight end position in jersey No. 88 for the Green Bay Packers. It is Jermichael Finley, and he is part wide receiver, part tight end and All-World at one of the game's most important positions.

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Not since Tony Gonzalez appeared on the scene have I seen a tight end with hands this sure. In fact, during Sunday's 7-on-7 drill, Finley did the improbable and caught two passes at once -- one with each hand.

I'm serious.

He circled to the right flat for a sideline pass when, suddenly, a second ball appeared on his radar. Apparently, quarterbacks Matt Flynn and Graham Harrell got their signals crossed, and both aimed at Finley at the same time.

No problem. He simply stabbed one pass with his right hand, one with the left, then continued downfield as if nothing extraordinary occurred. The play went largely unnoticed by fans, but those who saw it looked at each other as if to say, "Naaaaahhhh I didn't just see that ... did I?"

You did. Welcome to Jermichael Finley's world where everything is possible.

"Just a natural reaction," Finley said later. "It was just one of those things where I saw one ball coming and caught it, then saw another and tried to catch [it]. I just tried to do something different."

Get ready for a lot of that this season, people. Because if Jermichael Finley stays healthy, he fulfills his guarantee. He will raise the bar at the tight end position, and he will establish himself -- not Jason Witten or Gonzalez or Vernon Davis -- as the best tight end in the NFC and the closest thing to Antonio Gates in pro football.

Correction: If he stays healthy, he puts Gates in the rear-view mirror and establishes himself as the premier pass-catching tight end in the NFL.

Notice I said, If. Finley hasn't completed a 16-game season in two years, and he's in the last year of his contract. So 2011 is important for a lot of reasons. He must prove he can stay on the field, and he must prove he's worthy of a long-term deal.

One is contingent on the other, and Finley knows it. If he stays healthy he cashes in big ... with someone. If he doesn't, the Packers are so deep at the position -- with rookie D.J. Williams an early camp hit -- he won't get the big bucks.

But I can't see them flushing him. I mean, how can you? When you see what Finley can do -- play wide, play on the line, make big catches over the middle, make big catches in the end zone, you name it -- it's hard to let go. Plus, the Packers tend to keep their valued contributors, with wide receiver James Jones and fullback John Kuhn this week's examples.

But Finley is in another stratosphere than those guys. I mean it. Seldom has there been a tight end with so much ability, so much promise and so much waiting for him.

"The guy's got it all," said cornerback Tramon Williams. "You have good guys, great guys and some guys who are just gifted. He is gifted."

He is so gifted that I would suggest there is no defense or no defender out there who can handle Jermichael Finley. Only Jermichael Finley can keep him from moving to the A-list of tight ends, and that has nothing to do with character, practice habits or attitude and everything to do with injuries.

He just can't shake them, missing three games in 2009 and all but five last year.

For that reason, the Packers are taking it easy with him, easing Finley into practices slowly. Finley doesn't mind, saying that "if they let me go Sept. 8 [the season opener] I'll be the happiest guy in the world." So will the Green Bay Packers and their legions of fans. Because what you see is the next great tight end in the NFL about to happen ... provided, of course, he stays on the field.

"He's a freak," said coach Mike McCarthy. "Some of the things he does out here you just shake your head at.

"I just had a conversation with James Jones and told him that the 90-catch, 100-catch season in Green Bay is probably not going to happen. And that's a credit to you guys. It would be fun to throw it every snap.

"Trust me, I believe in running the football, and I think about running about as much as I can. But you have some guys who can do things with the ball."

I know of one who can do everything. Here's hoping we get to see it.


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