For the first time in his 10-year NFL career, Mark Tauscher watched every snap from the sideline last week.
“You know, it’s different because being a backup is mentally probably more difficult than being a starter,” Tauscher said on Thursday. “You’re watching different positions and you’re thinking any snap — and then Allen (Barbre) had gotten rolled up so I grabbed my helmet. Mentally, you’re more on edge than I would say — when you’re playing, you’re just playing. You’re not really thinking about a lot of stuff. When you’re standing on the sideline, it’s a whole different story.”
It likely will be a different story this week, because Tauscher appears on track to start at right tackle on Sunday at Tampa Bay.
Tauscher’s ascension into the starting lineup comes with rather lofty — and probably unrealistic — expectations. The Packers have allowed a whopping 31 sacks, four more than any team in the league and more than Atlanta, New England, Tennessee and Indianapolis combined. If he’s close to as good as the Mark Tauscher of old, he’d be an upgrade over the inconsistent Barbre. But it’s not like Barbre has been the only problem.
Nonetheless, even Tauscher, who hasn’t played in 11 months, isn’t sure what to expect.
“That’s a good question,” he said. “I can’t give you a definite answer on that until I’m out there playing. I think I definitely am going to be able to play. What that level is, we’ll have to wait and see.”
Nor could he say for certain that he’d be a solution to the mental errors that have plagued the line. He certainly has experience on his side, but he’s not assuming all of those thousands of snaps will be a substitute for missing training camp and the first seven games of the season.
“That’s tough to say,” he said. “I think you get an idea of what’s going on as the game’s moving, but until you’re out playing, I think it’s hard to really feel like you’ve got it picked back up.”
If Tauscher starts on Sunday, it will come just one day short of four weeks after being re-signed. At the time, he knew playing in those first two games — against Detroit and Cleveland — was out of the question. Tauscher was eased back into action during his first week, played mostly on the scout team the second week and rotated in with the starters at practice last week.
He says his left knee — which required reconstructive surgery due to torn ACLs in 2002 and 2008 — hasn’t had any setbacks since his return. But even four full weeks of practice are no substitute to what he’s likely to experience on Sunday.
“It comes down to getting hit and being in awkward positions and having that feeling that it’s strong and it’s not going to be an issue,” Tauscher said. “In the same way you can’t practice that speed, the same thing, you can’t really practice those hits. It just happens and you have to just let it go and understand that it’s a tough, violent game, and things happen. You have to be willing to put all that stuff on the table and understand that there are things that can happen when you’re out there playing.”
Fortunately, Tauscher doesn’t have to be the dominant lineman who allowed merely six sacks in the first four seasons following his first torn ACL. Tauscher, who allowed two sacks last year and was penalized only once last season, according to STATS, has seen mostly good things from the Packers’ offense during his four weeks. Perhaps his return will turn good into great.
“There’s a lot of things that are moving in the right direction,” he said. “I think there’s some things that need to be cleaned up. The big thing with this offense is rhythm, and if you’re out of rhythm and things aren’t moving smoothly, you get backed up into spots. Any offense is going to be better when it’s third-and-5 than if it’s third-and-12. There’s a lot of things that go into it. Obviously, if you stay in rhythm and you stay in normal down-and-distance, you’re going to be a much more effective unit.”
Assuming Tauscher starts, Sunday will be the moment he has been waiting for since having surgery about 10 months ago.
“No question, if that’s the way they go, I’m definitely (excited),” he said. “It’s been a long, difficult road, so yeah, it will be a big deal.”
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.