"It's time to step up my game."
Professional athletes often overuse that tired cliché throughout their careers, but if anybody is ready to live by that phrase these days, it's Packers linebacker Torrance Marshall. He knows that if he doesn't turn his game up another notch, his days as a Green Bay Packer may soon be over.
"My clock is ticking so to speak," Marshall admitted. "This is my fourth year, so it's about time for me to start playing well."
It's not that Marshall isn't capable of doing just that. In his first three years in Green Bay, he has shown some brilliant flashes that he can be a productive player, if not a great one.
The 6-2, 255-pound Marshall had a remarkable college career at Oklahoma, where he was named the MVP in his team's victory over Florida State in the 2001 Orange Bowl.
The Packers selected him in the third round of the 2001 draft because he was a great athlete (he once ran the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds) and to fill a linebacker need. His stature and workout numbers have been impressive, but they don't add up to what he and the Packers had hoped for.
To Marshall's credit, he understands that because he has shown so much ability, that much more is expected of him. He said that his college days are in the past, but if things go well, he can play at a high level in Green Bay, too.
"Coming out of college is a little different," Marshall said. "Right now I am only here for a year. I am just planning to get a little bit more playing time than I have in my last three years.
"I've been around a little while so I just feel comfortable with the defense. Now, I know the defense well enough to just come out and play instead of thinking a lot and being indecisive on what I am supposed to do. I feel comfortable about all of those things."
GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman has noticed the difference in Marshall's play. He quickly praised the progress his fourth-year linebacker has made.
"I thought yesterday (Wednesday) was his best day as a Packer," Sherman said. "I thought today and yesterday he put together solid practices, even more than solid. I thought yesterday walking off the field that he had his best practice as a Packer. After watching tape, I confirmed that. He has played well in camp so far and I'm pleased."
Although Marshall likes the compliment, he said it's nothing to get too excited about.
"Coach means well, but it's still my job to go out and compete," Marshall said. "It's still only two weeks into camp and it's early. I want them to be saying those things at the end of the year.
"I feel good about what I am doing now, but I don't want to be finished. I want to keep on performing well and doing things even better. I want to improve on a daily basis."
Don't even try to tell Marshall that he is in position for more playing time because he doesn't want to hear it.
"To some people, I am on the bubble," Marshall said. "It's a long way until the regular season begins and I just want to keep working hard. Nothing is promised to anybody.
"I'm not going to look at it like I am the top backup to anybody or a shoe-in to make the team. Anything can happen. You never know what is going on behind closed doors so I just want to go in and work hard."
Marshall said that his practice performances have been going well, but he continues to warn that it's still early.
"There is a lot more camp left," Marshall said. "I just want to stay consistent and take it one day at a time. I want to be the best player on the field that day and so far that has been what is working for me, so I'm going to stick to that."
Marshall said that when critics talk about him, it's nothing new. It's just something he has tried to ignore while letting his play speak for itself.
"The only thing I can control is my play. I just go out and try to perform well and let that speak for itself," Marshall said. "There's a lot of talk about this and that but I'm not worried. As long as I take care of my business on the field by practicing hard and playing the way I know I can play, then everything should be fine."
If things go better than fine, Marshall knows that he has some good times ahead of him in Green Bay. If not, he knows that his days are numbered but that idea doesn't sit well with him at all.
"This could be my last year with the Packers so hopefully I play well enough that they re-sign me," Marshall explained. "I've been here; I don't want to go anywhere else. Hopefully, if everything works out it will happen.
"I like everything about Green Bay. I like the city, the fans, everything. This is a top notch organization. I am pleased about that part of my career."
Sherman agreed that it's not too late for Marshall to meet the high expectations he has set for him.
"We went in after the last mini-camp and because of the weight situation, I was concerned who our fourth, fifth and sixth linebackers were going to be," Sherman said. "He has helped himself coming back, having lost the weight and he's in better shape. He seems to be more instinctive. He can have a role in our defense in certain packages if he continues to do what he is doing."
Yes, it's early, but it's looking more and more like this is the year Marshall really will step up his game. Only then will that phrase be more than just a cliché.