From Himself And Team, Tauscher Eyes Improvement

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There were essentially two reasons behind Mark Tauscher's decision to re-sign with the Green Bay Packers this offseason.

The 32-year-old veteran right tackle, a Wisconsin native who was originally drafted by the Packers back in 2000, wants to play his entire career here, and he wants to finish that career on a winning team.

"When you're getting older, you always want to have a chance to win," Tauscher said. "This team, ... we came up short last year. But with the core guys we have, this team has unlimited potential."

That's a bold statement, but Tauscher's perspective is a broad one, having been a key member of Green Bay squads that came within mere overtime periods of possible trips to the NFC Championship (2003) and Super Bowl (2007) and others that fell to records of 4-12 (2005) and 6-10 (2008).

The fact that the Packers surged from a 4-4 start to go 7-1 in the second half of 2009 and make the playoffs certainly fuels Tauscher's optimism. What he feels he witnessed last season, including in the NFC Wild Card shootout loss in Arizona, was a young, talented team that was growing up and learning how to win.

"The thing is, every season is different, every team is different, and it doesn't matter if you have 51 of your 53 guys on your roster back, or if you have 19 of your 22 starters. That's completely irrelevant," Tauscher said. "Because the key to having a successful team is, ... there's going to be bumps in the road, and you have to handle them.

"The season we went 6-10, we were a good football team. People look at it as, 'Oh, you're 6-10, you're terrible.' I disagree with that. We just couldn't handle bad things happening to us. Whereas last year, bad things happened, and we were able to overcome them."

Tauscher overcame plenty just to make himself a part of that team. Out of football for the first part of the year while rehabbing the second season-ending knee injury of his career, which occurred in December '08, he signed with the Packers on Oct. 12.

Back in the lineup for the first time in Week 9 at Tampa Bay, Tauscher then had to battle through a minor knee mishap, eventually becoming the full-time starter in Week 11 and playing the rest of the way.

What influence Tauscher had in the team's second-half resurgence has been overstated by some and under-appreciated by others. Statistically, the offense allowed an alarming 41 sacks in the first nine games of '09, but just 10 over the span of Tauscher's seven straight starts to close the regular-season.

He downplays the direct impact he may have had on those numbers, but his veteran presence on the practice field, in the locker room and in the huddle no doubt played a role in the offense's increased efficiency.

"There's always a ton of blame when numbers are not good, and there's probably more credit when things look better, but our offense is a timing and rhythm-based offense," Tauscher said. "Just looking back at those first three or four weeks, I don't think the team was in sync, and as time went on we had a better understanding of what we were going to be and what was going to make us successful.

"I think maybe early on we were trying to figure out what was going to work and what wasn't. We figured out what we were going to do that was going to be successful, and we just stuck to that."

Tauscher did the same with his own play as he slowly worked his way back to a level of comfort with his knee.

"I struggled a little bit early," he admitted. "When you miss training camp and you're rehabbing an injury, there's a lot of things that go into it, and until you actually get out and play and trust your leg again, ... I don't know if in the beginning I felt that way. But as the season wore on, especially the last three or four weeks, I got more and more trust in that leg and my game improved."

Without a doubt, Tauscher believes he'll be a better player in 2010 than he was last season. For one, he'll be that much farther removed from his major knee injury, and he's in Green Bay now for the offseason strength and conditioning program.

That will give him the kind of physical prep work for the long season that he didn't have a year ago when he was dedicated entirely to rehab. Come training camp, he may have to fend off a challenge from second-year pro T.J. Lang for his starting job, but no matter what unfolds his attention will remain on his own work and performance.

"It was real important for me to get here for the offseason program and give myself a chance to focus completely on getting in really good shape and coming back and giving myself a chance to have a really good season," he said. "My focus now is on self-improvement, and then when we start doing OTAs and those things, I'll start really focusing on the football aspect of it.

"Going through a whole offseason and training camp and those things gives yourself a much better chance than coming in in the middle of October."

{sportsad300}That said, the Packers can give themselves a better chance in 2010 by getting going before the midseason point as well.

In Tauscher's eyes, the team needs to remember how it overcame adversity to win games, and apply that as consistently as possible. That adversity included long-term issues, like the season-ending knee injuries to defensive starters Al Harris and Aaron Kampman, as well as momentary lapses, like the fumble on the opening kickoff on Thanksgiving in Detroit that led to an early Lions touchdown.

"(In 2008), that would have put us in a tight spot more than likely," Tauscher said. "This year we said, 'All right, let's dig in, get ourselves back on track,' and we went on and won that football game."

That hard-nosed approach is what Tauscher has employed his entire career, from being a lightly regarded seventh-round draft pick to recovering from two reconstructive knee surgeries. He's not going to stop now, and he doesn't want this current Packers team to, either.

"How do you respond, and can you respond from tough breaks?" Tauscher said. "That's the thing that makes me so optimistic is that we've grown, and I just assume we're going to continue to grow.

"But with that, there comes a ton of work that you have to put in to get yourself in a position to be successful."

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