Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Packers' Tauscher tough on the blocks

By Lori Nickel

October 31, 2006

GREEN BAY, Wis. - Offensive line coaches Joe Philbin and James Campen said Mark Tauscher couldn't stop grinning in the fourth quarter against Arizona. Tauscher was unstoppable in the back-side blocking as Green Bay's offensive line helped both Ahman Green and Vernand Morency on to 100-yard games in the victory against the Cardinals.

Tauscher, the seven-year veteran right tackle, has endured a coaching change, a system change and the loss of close friends and teammates on the line in the last year and a half. But it isn't his nature to back down from this latest challenge of zone blocking with rookies all around him - not after a childhood that taught him teamwork and competition at the same time.

Tauscher believes his competitive nature has always been his strength. ``And I would not have that without my two brothers and pretty much everybody we grew up with,'' he said.

That's because Tauscher brothers Craig, Mark and Pat made winning the goal in everything they did.

Growing up on a farm in Milladore in central Wisconsin, they kicked field goals between two silos, marching back five yards until someone missed and a winner was declared. They played Wiffle ball, matching hits to the road that was the home run line.

Their father, Dennis, turned a hayfield into a baseball diamond and the neighboring Schmitt family had several of their nine kids over to play (the outs didn't count for the youngest kids). First base was a corner of the barn and Dennis offered $100 to anyone who could hit a ball to the pond.

The Tauschers played marbles and kickball at St. Mary elementary school in Auburndale and rode bikes on the ice. They played games in the shed for hours.

``We played everything and we played for everything,'' said Mark Tauscher. ``At that point in time, it meant something. You'd never want one of your brothers to one-up you at any time. It got pretty heated.''

But it wasn't all boyhood fun and games.

In the 1970s and '80s, Dennis and Dianne owned `Tauscher's D and D Dairy Farm,' nearly 800 acres with 160 dairy cattle and up to 500 head of livestock. Milk was the main source of income.

``On a dairy farm, you never get a day off,'' Dennis said. ``As a matter of fact you never get a half a day off because you milk cows in the morning and at night.''

Once the Tauscher boys turned 8 years old or so, they started helping their parents and oldest sister Christine with farm chores. The easier days still meant 3 1/2 hours of chores.

``The kids had to be on the school bus at 7:30 in the morning, and if we wanted help out of them they had to be down by 4:30,'' said Dennis.

When younger, Craig and Mark fed calves with bottles and swept floors. As they got older Dennis trusted them to handle bales of hay, run the bunk feeder or the barn cleaners, and eventually, milk the cows. On Sundays when the Packers played, the family squeezed the morning and evening chores around the game.

``Like all kids, they tried to get out of what they could,'' said Dennis. ``I would be cleaning stock yards or something, and they would happen to disappear on me, thinking if they get far enough away I won't take the time to find them. But they were good workers, every one of them.''

In a small town, their lives revolved around school and chores. Sports were their social lives.

``I don't think Mark ever exerted himself with his farm chores like he did with football,'' said Craig with a laugh. ``None of us really cared for the farming part too much. I don't think there was ever a risk of us going in to farming, just because the hours and always being tied down.''

After hip-replacement surgery, Dennis sold the farm in 1992 when Mark was 13. Dennis ``hobby'' farms now on about 20 acres and writes sports stories on a part-time basis for the Marshfield News-Herald.

By high school, Mark may have been built more like a lineman but he was well known in his community as an elite baseball and basketball player.

``He was always a really great athlete,'' said Pat. ``He wasn't just a one-sport wonder.''

That added to the brotherly competition.

``It's always tough when your little brother passes you,'' said Craig. ``For a while it was a tough time; there was definitely some jealousy from me to him. But I would say maybe by my senior year of high school, when I knew he was better than me, I accepted that, and it became me hoping that he does well.''

Tauscher walked on at Wisconsin in 1996 but by his senior year was starting. For the Badgers, he blocked for Ron Dayne and Michael Bennett.

He was just a seventh-round draft choice by the Packers but was starting at right tackle as a rookie in 2000.

The competitive drive that blossomed with his brothers and fueled Tauscher's early success also helped him rehabilitate from a knee injury in the 2002 season, when he and left tackle Chad Clifton were both on injured reserve.

``There were certainly days that you just didn't feel like coming in and Mark would say, `Let's do it, we've got a big goal that we're working toward,' '' said Clifton.

Now at 315 pounds, Mark is athletic enough to play the Packers' aggressive scheme on a line that has improved weekly.

The Tauscher brothers remain tight. Craig, 32, works in the lab of the blood bank at Mayo Clinic and lives in Rochester, Minn. Mark, 29, lives in Green Bay year-round. Pat, 25, is training to be a funeral home director in the Madison area.

They get together every Easter at Craig's, where they have a ping pong tournament with seedings for the players (Mark's best finish is runner-up). Last year they toured Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park and Camden Yards together for a baseball fix.

The year before that, they took a summer trip to Iceland, where they played soccer with the locals and golfed at 2 a.m. because there was still daylight.

``We wanted to keep playing because we were losing,'' said Craig. ``The other team didn't forfeit or anything, they finally just said `OK, you don't lose,' so we could quit.''

Even now, the brothers are so competitive that they can't help but critique each other's hands in Sheepshead.

``You'd swear they don't get along, but they are thicker than thieves,'' said Dennis Tauscher. ``I am probably happiest about that than anything. You see so many families that are split apart, the way the world is spread out these days. These guys are always going to be there for each other. They like each other.

``I always tell my wife, if I didn't do anything else right, I instilled family values, and they have that.''

Friday, October 27, 2006

Whitner Emerging as a Leader

October 30, 2006


Rookie SS Donte Whitner has been all that the Bills had hoped he would be after selecting him eighth overall in last April's draft. He is starting alongside fellow rookie Ko Simpson and has proven to be a quick study, already beginning to emerge as a leader on the Bills' defense.

Whitner an Excellent Pick
all football… all year

Bye week analysis of the Bills' draft (Day One)
By Connor J. Byrne on October 27, 2006 12:12 AM

Through their first seven regular-season games of 2006, the Buffalo Bills ' record is a horrendous 2-5, and the team is sitting in second-last place in the mediocre AFC East. Naturally, that's nowhere near where Buffalo wanted to be on its bye week, especially considering the team was impressive through its first four games.

One of the staples of the Bills' season thus far has been their youth. General manager Marv Levy and the remainder of his staff caught a great deal of grief from various media members and fans for their selections in April's NFL draft. Although it's still quite early in the rookies' careers, now's a good time to examine just how the Bills' youngsters have been faring this year.

This is the first of a two-part series analyzing the successes and failures of the Bills' first-year players. Today's edition will focus on Buffalo's Day One picks.

First round (eighth overall) - Donte Whitner, S, Ohio State. Projected by many as the most baffling pick of Round One, Whitner has, perhaps, been Buffalo's best defensive player this year. He was expected to be a reserve behind Matt Bowen for much of the season, but the veteran has been inactive all year thanks to injury. That's been a blessing for the Bills, though, because Whitner's been able to develop even more expeditiously than they'd originally hoped.

The 21-year-old Whitner, who was the league's Defensive Rookie of the Month in September, has racked up 45 tackles, an interception and two passes defensed so far. To think, he's only going to continue getting better. Early verdict: An excellent pick by the Bills, even if it meant not taking quarterback Matt Leinart. Whitner will be a top-notch DB for a long time.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Zastudil Receives Game Ball

NFL: Game balls - Browns vs. Broncos

October 23, 2006 staff writers hand out their games balls for Sunday's Browns-Broncos game.

Steve King picks ... Browns punter Dave Zastudil - Although the Browns haven't been able to take advantage of it much to this point, his punting has provided them with good field position. The Bay Village, Ohio has been everything the Browns hoped he would be - and more - when they signed him in free agency in the offseason.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Krenzel Doing Radio Work

October 9, 2006

Former Ohio State quarterback Craig Krenzel, the QB on OSU's 2002 national title team, is doing Buckeyes pre- and post-game radio work for a Columbus station while recovering from an arm injury that's sidelined him for the NFL season. Krenzel has played for Chicago and Cincinnati and hopes to land somewhere as a free agent this off-season. "The radio work gives me a chance to keep looking at game films and keep thinking like a quarterback," Krenzel said.

The New York Times Discusses Florida Athletic Director's Strategy, Cornrich Comments

October 9, 2006

With a Decisive Dismissal, Florida Remakes Itself


GAINESVILLE, Fla., Oct. 8 — Two years ago this month, the Florida football program was in crisis mode after a loss at Mississippi State.

Things had become so bad that in less than three seasons under Ron Zook the Gators had lost six home games, more than in Steve Spurrier’s 12-year tenure.

So the athletic director, Jeremy Foley, fixed his own mistake by firing Zook the Monday after the Mississippi State debacle. The move, considered unusual and controversial at the time because it was so early in the season, looks ingenious two years later.

Now, under Urban Meyer, Florida is 6-0 for the first time since 1996 and is ranked No. 2 in The Associated Press poll for the first time since 2001. In two years, the Gators have gone from a complete mess to the elite team in this football-rich state, rocketing past Miami and Florida State, both unranked for the first time in 24 years.

One of the legacies of this swift and stunning Florida revival may be a blueprint of how to fire and hire a head coach.

“I don’t want to advocate firing coaches, but if someone is headed down that road, I think it does help,” Foley said of a dismissal early in the season. “You need to do your due diligence, especially in a high-profile program where the scrutiny is going to be very, very high. I don’t think I’ll have to, but I would not hesitate to do it again.”

And with this season crossing its halfway point on Saturday, there is the potential for a slew of high-profile jobs to open. Last season, only four jobs changed hands among the 65 in the six major conferences. Only one of those, Colorado, came from a university firing its coach.

In this short-fuse world of college athletics, where instant results are not quick enough, that low job turnover led to predictions last off-season of an avalanche of job openings.

Most of the speculation will revolve around Bobby Bowden at Florida State and Larry Coker at Miami. Both programs are mired in relative mediocrity.

It is unlikely both of those jobs will open. But if one does, those universities will probably be competing with several others for the top available coaches. Topping the list of jobs likely to be open are North Carolina, Michigan State and Arizona State. None of those jobs are the caliber of Miami and F.S.U., but they offer good tradition, salaries in excess of a million dollars a year and good facilities.

“I think what Foley did was astute and showed clearly there was a strategy,” said Neil Cornrich, a lawyer and agent who represents numerous college coaches, including Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz and Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops. “I think that’s the trend. The smart athletic directors will follow Foley.”

What the early firing of Zook did was give Foley five weeks to thoroughly research Meyer, who was coaching at Utah, and other candidates. While Foley did not contact Meyer until after Utah’s regular season ended in late November, he did talk to Meyer’s former bosses and players and his friends. Foley said he ended up with a notebook full of material he would not have gotten had he waited to fire Zook.

“How do I make calls about Urban Meyer when I still have a coach?” Foley said.

The week that Florida hired Meyer, three other programs — Illinois, Washington and Notre Dame — were trying to do the same. Representatives from Washington and Notre Dame ended up in his living room.

But Foley had an advantage when his turn came to try to lure Meyer to Gainesville. Through his research, Foley knew exactly what Meyer wanted.

Instead of dropping off clunky piles of books with generic information about the University of Florida, Foley gave him an itemized book with sections on everything he knew Meyer cared about.

“It was very succinct, very clear,” Meyer said. “It was about how the athletic department worked, the academic structure and where my kids would go to school and where we’d live.”

Foley knew from his research how important family was to Meyer. So Foley had Florida’s basketball coach, Billy Donovan, call Meyer and Donovan’s wife, Christine, call Meyer’s wife, Shelley. They talked about schools, neighborhoods and living environment.

If those interactions and early research had not happened, Foley is not sure things would have worked out the way they did.

“To be honest with you, I don’t think he’d be here,” Foley said of Meyer. “Urban is a thorough guy who doesn’t leave many stones unturned. One reason among many he’s here now and not in South Bend is because we did our research and established a relationship as soon as the season was over.”

Meyer has long loathed the way coaching searches are handled, saying they can be a distraction to a team and often force a coach to make a momentous decision with little time to research. Meyer did not even have a chance to visit Gainesville before taking the Florida job.

“You’re making career decisions and decisions that affect a bunch of young people and universities and you basically have 24 hours to do it,” he said.

With the college coaching landscape appearing ripe for an overhaul this off-season, it will be interesting to see who strikes first.

“The timing allowed us to do our job and allowed us to be where we are today,” Foley said.

And No. 2 in the country two years later shows that a quick hook can yield big results.

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