Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Throwback Thursday Tribute: Linebacker Chris Borland

For Throwback Thursday this week we’ll take a look at Chris Borland’s career and legacy as a Wisconsin Badger.

By Tanner Nestle
July 29, 2018

Chris Borland was one of the most successful linebackers to ever put on the Cardinal and White. He saw a long career, complete with huge stats and plenty of awards and recognition. He enjoyed a lot of team success as he played from 2009-2013. Not many Wisconsin defenders are able to say they made the same impact Borland did and he remains to this day, even with some of the great defenders that have played for Wisconsin in recent years, one of the best ever.

Borland’s Game

Chris Borland was a tackling machine. He recorded three consecutive seasons with over 100 total tackles and was always in the mix at the end of the play. After every whistle, the number 44 jersey was at the bottom of the pile without fail. Borland was more than just a sound tackler though. He did a bit of everything on defense, which is what made him so great. He could rush the passer, he forced fumbles, and he even played well in coverage. Borland was a true every-down linebacker.

Wisconsin’s defenses benefitted greatly from his play. From 2011-2013, the three 100+ tackle seasons from Borland, Wisconsin’s total defense went from 34th to 29th to 9th in the country. The 2013 season saw Borland being named an FWAA first-team All-American and win the Big Ten Defensive Player of the year.

Borland’s Legacy

Chris Borland came along right at the height of what we thought Wisconsin Badgers football could be. He played through the three Rose Bowl years and even stayed for Gary Andersen’s first year in 2013. In times of great vulnerability, he did everything he could to keep Wisconsin steady and establish a culture of playing great defense in Madison. In the fours years since Borland’s eligibility has expired, Wisconsin’s total defense has ranked 9th, 2nd, 13th, and 4th nationally. And several Wisconsin linebackers have gone on to follow in his footsteps to the NFL.

Borland’s NFL career was a roller coaster. He was originally a bit undersized to play linebacker at the NFL level but earned his chance about midway through his rookie season. In eight games he racked up 84 tackles and looked like a steal. Borland suddenly retired after his rookie season due to the risk of head injuries. He said he wasn’t feeling symptoms of any major head injuries, but he wanted to be proactive about the risks.

Borland was the contradiction that has become American football. We love to see guys play as hard and physical as he did, but it comes with great risks that eventually shortens careers one way or another. It would be great to see Borland still in the league representing the Badgers, but he made the ultimate choice of protecting his own future. And he deserves nothing but respect for walking away from the game when he did.

The time he spent on the field was incredible and the legacy he left, and the culture he helped create, will live for a long time.

Monday, July 23, 2018

For Mark Tauscher, Packers Hall of Fame is culmination of remarkable path to, in NFL

Mark Tauscher played 11 seasons for the Packers.

By Jason Wilde
July 22, 2018

GREEN BAY — Today, Marco Rivera calls his good friend and former teammate Mark Tauscher “an incredible human being” and “the definition of a diamond in the rough.”

These are remarkably heartfelt compliments considering the culture the Green Bay Packers’ offensive line built in the early 2000s — a band of brothers who loved each other, but usually showed that love by giving one another endless grief, with no one immune from the teasing.

But having played alongside him on the line and taken him under his wing upon Tauscher’s arrival as a rookie seventh-round pick in 2000, Rivera had a front-row seat to see the player Tauscher became. So Rivera couldn’t help but break with the line’s no touchy-feely ethos and speak from the heart about his pal.

Of course, that only lasted a fleeting moment. Because then Rivera had to share his memory of the first time he laid eyes on Tauscher. And, well, let’s just say Rivera wasn’t especially impressed.

“I remember when he came through the door, I was like, ‘Wow … who’s the pudgy kid?’” the three-time Pro Bowl right guard recalled as Tauscher prepared to be inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame on Saturday night. “I’m like, ‘Whew, this is going to be a short stay.’”

Rivera was wrong, of course. Tauscher went on to an against-the-odds 11-year career at right tackle — five years of which included lining up right next to Rivera.

Big first impression

And Rivera learned just how far off he’d been about the baby-faced kid from the University of Wisconsin during the first practice of training camp that first summer, when Tauscher lined up against Vonnie Holliday, an athletic, hulking defensive end, during 1-on-1 pass-blocking drills.

“Lo and behold, we go to camp, we’re doing pass sets 1-on-1, and Vonnie was our first-round pick two years before. And here comes Mark and here comes Vonnie, and I’m thinking, ‘Oooh, this is going to be bad,’” Rivera recounted. “But the ball is snapped, Mark takes his set, Vonnie comes in … and Mark puts the brakes on and puts Vonnie on his back.

“Vonnie, of course, didn’t want to take that. So he wanted to go again. And Mark, he didn’t just do it once. He did it twice. Right then and there, I knew we had something. I knew he was going to be OK.”

Tauscher turned out to be more than just OK. While two ill-timed major knee injuries in 2002 and 2008 — just as he was poised to hit free agency — cost him financially and forced him to endure two arduous rehabilitations to get back on the field, he far exceeded the local-boy-makes-good narrative.

Although he was never elected to the Pro Bowl, he developed into one of the league’s top right tackles and was crucial to the offensive line’s dominance in 2003 and ’04, when the unit kept quarterback Brett Favre safe (19 sacks allowed in 2003, a franchise-record low 14 sacks allowed in 2004) and paved the way for halfback Ahman Green’s record-setting 2003 season (a franchise-best 1,883 rushing yards, 2,250 total yards from scrimmage and a combined 20 touchdowns).

“I’m proud of people who take advantage of their God-given ability. And Mark is one of those people,” said Pro Football Hall of Fame general manager Ron Wolf, who drafted Tauscher and counts the selection among the smartest calls he made during his nine-year tenure as GM.
“I always thought that Mark had been in the Pro Bowl. And I didn’t realize until somebody corrected me a couple years ago that that wasn’t the case. Mark Tauscher had Pro Bowl ability.

“The interesting thing is, in order to play in the offensive line, the one thing you have to have — other than size, certainly — is you have to have balance. And this was the thing Mark had that was just unbelievable. Oh, the balance he had.
In fact, when one goes to practice, one knows right away who’s going to make it and who’s not going to make it — who’s a good pick and who’s not a good pick. And you could tell right away early that offseason — and this was without pads — that we had a guy that probably should have been taken in the second round, without a doubt: Mark Tauscher.”

Auburndale to Green Bay

During his acceptance speech Saturday night inside the Lambeau Field atrium, Tauscher retraced his unlikely path to the NFL — from getting no Division I offers coming out of Auburndale High School; to his footwork catching the UW walk-on coordinator’s eye during a WIAA state basketball tournament game; to nearly calling it a career before a serendipitous meeting with UW coaches at the Kentucky Derby led to him returning to the Badgers for a fifth season of eligibility; to his one year as a starter coinciding with blocking for Heisman Trophy-winning running back Ron Dayne; to how his fancy feet playing hacky sack drew Wolf’s attention during a scouting visit to Madison.

Tauscher’s big break in the NFL came early — and suddenly. When veteran right tackle Earl Dotson had trouble with his chronic back problems during training camp, Tauscher saw far more snaps with the starters in practice and preseason games than any seventh-round pick could have hoped for. That work foreshadowed an unexpected opportunity.

“I was getting set to start my first preseason game, and Brett had just signed a $100 million contract,” Tauscher said. “I can remember coach (Mike) Sherman saying, ‘Are we really going to put a rookie seventh-round pick in front of our $100 million investment?’ I said, ‘Man, I sure hope so.’”

Despite the confidence they showed in him, Sherman and offensive line coach Larry Beightol fully expected Dotson to be fine by the time the season started. While Dotson was indeed back for the regular-season opener, his back locked up during the first quarter of the Packers’ Week 2 game at Buffalo, and Tauscher was summoned from the bench.

“Earl goes down and I look over my shoulder, and here comes Mark Tauscher — fresh-faced, clean-shaven … and his eyes are as big as saucers,” Rivera recalled with a chuckle. “He gets in the huddle, Brett’s giving the play, and I’m like, ‘Kid, it’s going to be OK.’ The first play, you would think the coaches would call a run play with a rookie tackle in the game. Nope. They call a five-step drop for Brett.

“I remember the first set: I have a three-technique (defensive tackle), ‘Tausch’ has a wide defensive end. So I’m blocking my guy, and I can’t see what he’s doing. So I’m waiting for the fans to start screaming, ‘Sack! Sack!’ And I look, and Mark’s getting the job done. The kid put a good game together.”

As the years went on, Tauscher developed not only into a top player but one of the team’s veteran leaders.
Protecting Favre early in his career and Aaron Rodgers late, he developed close friendships with both quarterbacking greats, along with linemates from both the start of his career (left tackle Chad Clifton, left guard Mike Wahle, center Mike Flanagan and Rivera, all of whom were in attendance Saturday night) as well as the youngsters he mentored as he approached the end of the line (Pro Bowl guard T.J. Lang and Bryan Bulaga, who also were at the induction).

While Favre wasn’t able to attend Saturday night, he was certain Tauscher’s speech would hold the audience’s attention — and draw laughs, which it did.

“He doesn’t need any tips on speaking,” said Favre, who delivered a pair of induction speeches not too long ago — for his 2015 Packers Hall of Fame induction and 2016 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement. “He’s a hell of a lot smarter than I ever was or will be. And, you’ve got to be careful getting in a little matching-wits contest with him because you walk away and you’re the one who looks like a dummy. And as knowledgeable as he is, he can enter into any conversation and hold his own.”

And that’s what Tauscher did on the field, too — he held his own, playing in 134 career games before a shoulder injury early in 2010 landed him on season-ending injured reserve for the team’s Super Bowl XLV run. Today, he stays connected to the team and the game through his radio work while having invested in a number of Madison-area business ventures. He and his wife, Sarah, live in Sun Prairie with son Max and daughter Eleanor.

Dad was ‘my inspiration’

Most of Tauscher’s family, including his mother, Dianne, and brothers Craig and Pat, were in attendance Saturday night, with one notable exception — his father, Dennis, who died in 2013. Denny Tauscher not only ran the family dairy farm and spent two decades as a sportswriter at the Marshfield News-Herald, he also coached many of his sons’ sports teams and instilled in his middle son the importance of a strong work ethic.

“If I had to choose only one person I would want to share this with today, there’s no question who that would be — of course, my dad,” Tauscher said near the end of his speech. “My dad was a hard grinder — there for every sporting event, my inspiration to keep pushing me to limits I didn’t know I could meet. The amount of time he spent taking us to games and practices was incredible, and now as a parent myself I look back at how he did it in awe.

“There’s no doubt he’d be here today, loving this more than anybody. As children, we all want to make our parents proud. And I’d have to say we accomplished it.

“It’s hard to grasp how unlikely it is that a seventh-round pick, a UW walk-on from a Wisconsin town of 600 ended up having an 11-year career in the NFL and now is a Packers Hall of Fame inductee. This is a dream come true.”

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Tom Tupa, Greg Urbas, Ellis Burks among Greater Cleveland Sports HOF 2018 inductees

July 16, 2018
By Elton Alexander

CLEVELAND, Ohio - Former Ohio State and Cleveland Browns punter Tom Tupa, St. Edward wrestling coaches Howard Ferguson and Greg Urbas the first African-American Olympic individual gold medalist and a record-setting bowler are among the Greater Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame's Class of 2018 announced Monday.

The seven-member class, to be inducted in September, includes Indians outfielder Ellis Burks, Olympic gold medalist DeHart Hubbard, jockey Mike Manganello and bowler Joanne Maiden Naccarato.

Here are excerpts from the inductee bios provided in a release by the Greater Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame, in addition to Plain Dealer and reporting:

Tom Tupa

As quarterback at Brecksville High, he helped lead the Bees to the Ohio title in 1983. He also lettered in basketball and baseball. He joined Ohio State, where he was the punter for four seasons, setting the top two seasonal punting averages as a freshman and senior. He was the starting quarterback in 1987, passing for 2,252 yards and 15 touchdowns. He was named All-American and All-Big 10 punter that year and played in the 1988 Hula Bowl.

Tupa was drafted by the Phoenix Cardinals in the third round, the 68th pick overall, to begin an 18-year professional career. Primarily a punter after joining the Indianapolis Colts in 1992, he was with the Browns for three seasons.

He kicked for New England and the New York Jets, earning Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors in 1999 with the Jets. He won a Super Bowl with Tampa Bay in 2002.

He averaged 43.4 yards per punt and passed for 3,430 yards and 12 touchdowns in the NFL.

He returned to his home town to help coach at his alma mater high school, where his three sons and daughter played. Married to Beth, he is also Brecksville Recreation Director.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Trey Flowers one of PFF's highest graded defenders from 2015 NFL Draft

By Tanya Ray Fox
July 12, 2018

Trey Flowers had a disappointing rookie debut for the New England Patriots back in 2015 after a shoulder injury kept him out for most of the season, but in the two seasons since, he continued to grow into his role on the defensive line. Now he’s one of its most important players heading into 2018.

The 24-year-old defensive end was taken 101st overall in the fourth round of the 2015 NFL Draft, and he earned an impressive 87.8 grade for his 2017 season from Pro Football Focus, making him the third-highest graded defender from his draft class behind Adrian Amos (Bears) and Landon Collins (Giants), both safeties.

Isn’t it just like Belichick to grab a player like that in the fourth round?

Flowers’ 13.5 sacks over the last two seasons leads the team by a large margin, and as they try to build a new and improved pass rush this year, they will have to rely on Flowers consistency. Luckily he’ll have some help on the other side from Adrian Clayborn, who will meet high expectations in New England after having a career-best season with the Atlanta Falcons in 2017.

Monday, July 09, 2018

Detroit Lions: Jeff Davidson; Lions’ secret weapon

Jeff Davidson has a history of successful running games and should be able to help the Lions take the necessary steps forward to take this offense to a whole new level.

By Zack Moran
July 8, 2018

Stop me if you have heard this one before; the Detroit Lions’ running game has been atrocious for a while now. It seems like you can’t go a day without that being said from everyone concerning the Lions. The Lions have signed LeGarrette Blount and drafted Kerryon Johnson this year. They also drafted Frank Ragnow to solidify the offensive line and Tyrell Crosby for much-needed depth. One move that deserves more attention; the hire of Jeff Davidson as the offensive line coach.

When Jim Caldwell was removed as head coach, there was only one other coach to fired along with him; and that was former offensive line coach Ron Prince. With all of the upgrades along the line, Prince was never able to put everything together successfully. Some reports even came out saying he was not well-regarded in the locker room and he rubbed the veterans the wrong way. In lieu of Prince’s firing, Jeff Davidson became the new offensive line coach when Matt Patricia was brought in as head coach.

Davidson’s rushing success

Jeff Davidson has had some success through his time as an NFL coach. His most recent stint with the Denver Broncos as the offensive line coach; they averaged 115.8 yards per game on the ground which came in at 12th in the league. His other stints with the Carolina Panthers, Minnesota Vikings, and the San Diego Chargers; all featured a strong rushing attack.

My biggest reason for optimism for Davidson is the consistent rushing success wherever he goes. He was able to take bottom-ranked rushing teams and transform them into a respectable rushing team time and time again. If you want to get an idea of Davidson’s track record; check out Nate Atkins from article. At the end of the day, through Davidson’s time as an offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, offenses averaged 10th most yards per carry in the league. Also, had multiple 100-yard rushers in a season, sometimes even in the same game. He will be the much-needed spark that will bring the rushing game out of purgatory.

Help to the passing game

Along with helping the running game, he might be able to solve the sack problem as well. Matthew Stafford was sacked 47 times last year. For the amount of money the Lions are investing in Stafford, that is completely unacceptable. Sacks are drive killers and run the risk of your quarterback getting injured. We need Stafford to stay healthy in order to have a successful season is a complete understatement. If Davidson is able to bring a simpler block scheme into the mix, it will allow Stafford to do what he does best in the passing game and shred defenses with his arm.

Also with an already solid passing attack in place, the running game just needs to be average. It’ll make the offense more well-rounded and make defenses respect every aspect of the Lions’ offense instead of just the passing game.

Davidson is the Lions’ secret weapon when it comes to the offense. The number of resources invested into the rushing attack and Davidson’s successful running pedigree, the Lions should have no problem running the ball this year. Also, with the hopes of keeping Stafford cleaner this year, he will help this offense become one of the best in the league.

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