GREEN BAY, Wis. – Neither a defender nor the sound of a whistle could stop Packers tight end Jermichael Finley.
Two passes, two nice catches on the run for Finley in practice Tuesday. After sidestepping defenders for extra yards, Finley kept right on going for the goal line each time even after coaches blew the plays dead.
By all accounts, Finley is having one of the best preseasons of his six-year NFL career in Green Bay — and that could spell more trouble for defenses trying to defend one of the toughest passing attacks in the league.
"He's a joy to coach," coach Mike McCarthy said. "He's a lot more mature. Physically he's in a place where he wants to be and he's having his finest training camp, I think it's clear cut."
Last week against the Rams, Finley caught four passes for 78 yards in limited time during a 19-7 win over the Rams, including a 33-yard reception from Aaron Rodgers. Finley had 61 catches last year, setting a record for a Packers tight end.
At 6-foot-5, the athletic Finley sports a toned physique that could give safeties headaches over the middle. A perfectionist who wants to play every practice snap, Finley appears happy and confident, sure of his abilities.
"I'm in a great place. I've always been in a good place and what not, but now we've got the timing down and the chemistry, steps and the coverage," he said this week.
"I'm feeling good out there, I'm moving well. What can you ask for more?"
This is good news for a Packers offense that's had to deal with preseason injuries to receivers Jordy Nelson (knee) and Randall Cobb (biceps). A playmaking Finley opens up the field more for the formidable receiving trio of Nelson, Cobb and James Jones.
Tight end coach Jerry Fontenot attributes Finley's development to his experience and work ethic. After six years, Finley knows McCarthy's expectations. He's familiar with the offense. He's developed chemistry with Rodgers.
A drill first instituted last season catching "fastballs" from about 6 yards away has helped keep the intense Finley loose.
"My main focus is just to have him relax ... to not be stressed out, intense and worried about what's going to happen if I don't" catch the ball, Fontenot said. "He's diligent and he's determined to get through the rough spots."
Plus, Finley has added some muscle that might also help him in the run game. Get the running game going behind DuJuan Harris and rookie Eddie Lacy and the Packers could be even more formidable with the ball.
Finley understands. McCarthy said his tight end is being asked to do more of the "dirty work" this preseason compared to the last two years.
As for the passing game, Finley appears to have it down pat with Rodgers.
"It starts in the practice field first and then in the classroom," Finley said. "If you do it in practice, it will show on the field."
Notes: Rodgers missed practice Tuesday due to illness but was expected to return Wednesday. "We all have families here, I think we're all aware that there's some stuff going around at this particular time, and Aaron is one of the many thousands of people that has a head cold," McCarthy said. "I think he's going to be fine." Vince Young, Graham Harrell and B.J. Coleman, who are vying to back up Rodgers, handled practice snaps. ... Young is progressing two weeks after signing with the Packers. "He still moves very well, but no, the timing is not exactly where you'd expect because he hasn't had a lot of time and reps with the" receivers, McCarthy said. "But we've made a lot of progress."
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org
Follow Genaro Armas at http://twitter.com/GArmasAP