Heading into the stretch run of the regular season, Mark Tauscher has provided a much-needed lift to the Green Bay Packers‘ offensive line.
The Packers have given up a league-worst 44 sacks this season, but only three in their past two games. Calling more short passing plays has helped, allowing quarterback Aaron Rodgers to get rid of the ball quickly. And play has generally improved across the offensive line.
But one of the biggest factors in the Packers‘ improved pass protection is the steadying presence of Tauscher, the veteran right tackle.
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Tauscher, the Packers‘ starter for most of the previous nine seasons, tore his left anterior cruciate ligament in December and wasn’t re-signed in the offseason.
But with the offensive line in turmoil in the first part of the season, the Packers brought back Tauscher in October – and he’s back to protecting his quarterback.
And he’s trying to help some of his younger teammates along the way.
“Obviously, I’ve played a long time and I see stuff,” Tauscher said. “When I got back it was kind of fun just being around and kind of explaining what I saw. But for the most part, guys, you always kind of lean on older guys. I did it and I’m sure the young guys do.”
Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said Tauscher’s play doesn’t always stand out until the end of the season, when coaches tally up sacks and realize Tauscher didn’t allow many.
“You kind of tally everybody’s sacks and everybody’s hits, and lo and behold, at the end of the year you say, ‘Geez, he did a pretty good job of keeping his guy away from the quarterback,”‘ Philbin said. “And I think in these couple games, he’s been doing pretty much the same thing he’s been doing since he’s been with us.”
Rodgers has confidence in Tauscher.
“He’s just smart,” Rodgers said. “He knows his limitations. He knows how people are going to attack him. You can’t really bull-rush him because he’s stout. When you run upfield, he’s just going to push you by. He’s not extremely quick and like I said, he knows his limitations. I have a good feel that when he’s in there and he’s running a guy by I can just step up, or if he’s getting bull-rushed I can just sit there for a bit. I just have a good feel when he’s there.”
Rodgers and some of the other Packers teammates enjoy razzing Tauscher about his less-than-perfect physique. “Probably one of the finer bodies you’ll see in the NFL,” lineman Daryn Colledge says, laughing.
But even if Tauscher doesn’t look the part, he certainly can play it.
“With a guy like that, you just know he’s going to get out there and he’s going to perform his job,” Colledge said. “You can say, ‘OK, right tackle, we’re good. Let’s focus elsewhere.”‘
But for all the compliments, the front office wasn’t in a rush to bring him back after the injury last season.
Green Bay went into this season with third-year player Allen Barbre as the starting right tackle. And while Barbre is more athletic than Tauscher, he wasn’t as productive.
Reeling from inconsistency and injuries early in the season, the Packers (7-4) made a deal to bring back Tauscher Oct. 12. He made his first start at Tampa Bay on Nov. 8, but re-injured his knee and had to sit out the next week against Dallas.
He returned to start the Packers‘ past two games, rotating at times with rookie T.J. Lang amid concerns that Tauscher wasn’t fit enough to make it through a full game.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said this week that Tauscher might be ready to play a full game going into Monday night’s matchup against Baltimore (6-5), and the Packers will need him against a powerful Ravens defensive front.
“I feel good, man,” Tauscher said. “It’s been a long road, but I think the more I play, the more comfortable and the better I’m going to feel.”