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Clifton, Tauscher Get Physical At Practice


It was expected that when veterans arrived at Clarke Hinkle Field to begin full-squad training camp practices Tuesday, offensive tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher would be among the mix.

What wasn't predicted was that they'd be mixing it up.

But that's just what happened. Making their returns from severe injuries that shortened their 2002 seasons, Clifton and Tauscher took part not only in individual drills, but in 11-on-11 situations, exceeding most everyone's expectations. Even their own.

"At first we didn't know if we were going to do the team periods," Clifton said, "but Tausch and I talked to (GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman) and said, 'You know, this is something we feel like we need to be doing right now, to get ready for the season.' And they let us go, and we handled it fine."

There was no live tacking Tuesday, but the pads were on. And for two players that hadn't seen anything close to live action in months, 'thud' contact was more than enough.

Tauscher's 2002 season ended in just the second game of the regular season, when New Orleans Saints linebacker Charlie Clemons rolled into his left knee, causing a sprained medial collateral ligament and a 75-percent tear of the anterior cruciate ligament.

Clifton's season ended just as abruptly in Week 12, when the now infamous hit of Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Warren Sapp caused such significant damage to Clifton's pelvis and hip that he couldn't walk for weeks.

After hitting injured reserve, both players targeted training camp for their return to the practice field, but their level of participation Tuesday was a considerable triumph.

Sherman estimated that the pair took part in 75 percent of the morning practice, before being held out in the afternoon to give their bodies time to recover.

"I've said it before, they've worked as hard as (any) two guys I've ever been around in the offseason," Sherman said. "That's the type of men they are. But to see them here today certainly was exciting. They did a good job."

The Packers can find promise in the fact that Clifton and Tauscher not only competed in team drills, but looked natural doing so. Sliding out to pick up the rush of Hannibal Navies, Clifton looked remarkably nimble as he helped spring Ahman Green for a 10-yard run.

Ultimately, however, Tuesday's participation will be graded on how the pair feel Wednesday. And beyond.

Neither complained of ill effects after the practice, but both expressed relief to have the first one behind them.

"I was excited to get out here and play," Tauscher said. "To be honest, I was a little nervous because I didn't know how things were going to go. But I was pretty happy with how it went."

Said Clifton, "I was a little nervous, definitely. Putting on the pads up in the locker room I was like, 'Well, here it goes. We're about to se if I can do this or not.'"

In terms of their physical recovery, neither Clifton nor Tauscher are out of the woods yet. But at some point they have to start testing their limits, and Tuesday seemed to be a good start.

Interestingly, the biggest hurdle ahead might not even be a physical one.

In team situations, Clifton said he found himself constantly checking behind him to see if there was a pile that he might fall into, and Tauscher said he was unusually aware of legs moving near his.

"Mentally is the hardest part coming back from something like this," Tauscher said. "As far as I'm concerned, the physical thing, you do your rehab, you do your work and you just hope that everything holds up structurally.

"It's mentally that you have to (battle). It's mind over matter and you have to kind of just trust everything and hope that things go the best."

It's still a long road ahead before Clifton and Tauscher are ready for game action. But as of Tuesday, both are making great time.

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