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Veteran OT Tauscher returns to Packers, who need help on line

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- For all his experience and ability, Mark Tauscher can't single-handedly bail out the Packers' struggling offensive line. He probably won't even be ready to play in Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions.

Age: 32

Height: 6-3  Weight: 316

College: Wisconsin

Experience: 9 seasons

But once he shakes the rust off from a serious knee injury and subsequent 10-month layoff from football, Tauscher hopes to help in whatever role that Green Bay's coaches want him to play. If his intention is to reclaim the starting right tackle job he held for most of the previous nine seasons, Tauscher is going about it very quietly.

"I'm not sure how it's going to play out," Tauscher said. "It's going to really come down to how I'm playing and how the group's playing."

Right now, the group is playing poorly.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been sacked an NFL-worst 20 times in four games, putting the brakes on an offense that appeared to be nearly unstoppable in the preseason. That's perhaps the biggest reason the Packers are 2-2 coming off their bye week and looking up at the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears in the NFC North standings.

So Green Bay turned to Tauscher, who signed a deal Monday to return for the rest of the season. Terms weren't disclosed.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Tauscher participated in individual drills but likely will need at least a week to get into game shape. That means Allen Barbre keeps his job -- for now, anyway.

"Allen Barbre is the starting right tackle and it's his responsibility to keep that job," McCarthy said. "Mark Tauscher is someone that we're going to bring along as fast as we can, but right now I am just looking at Mark to get back in football shape."


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While Rodgers has refused to grouse about the team's pass protection problems, at least one of his receivers is becoming frustrated. Greg Jennings has caught just 11 passes in four games but realizes he can't exactly vent to a quarterback who's being hit on almost every play.

"Can I be mad at Aaron? Can I be upset? He's been on his back -- probably more than the running backs," Jennings said. "So I can't be upset with Aaron. I can't say, 'Aaron, get me the ball.' Who knows? He might be trying to."

The return of veteran left tackle Chad Clifton, who has missed the last two games with a sprained right ankle, could solve some of the problems. And Tauscher at least gives coaches an intriguing option.

Tauscher tore his left anterior cruciate ligament last December, an injury to the same knee that caused him to miss most of the 2002 season. While his surgery in January and subsequent rehabilitation went smoothly, the Packers weren't willing to bring him back right away.

While Tauscher looked at other opportunities -- he worked out for the Kansas City Chiefs a few weeks ago -- he was hoping for another chance to play in Green Bay.

"Obviously, I love this organization and I enjoy being here," Tauscher said. "But I realized a long time ago that this is a business, and you have to figure out, you just don't know what's going to happen."

Tauscher did most of his rehabilitation program at the University of Wisconsin, where he was a standout lineman in the late 1990s. He acknowledged having some doubts about his football future and enrolled in a political science class with an eye toward the future, but he wasn't ready to leave the game yet.

"I couldn't start taking two or three different classes and start kind of getting my mind on other things," Tauscher said. "I put my energy and focus on rehabbing my knee and giving myself a chance. The other stuff, obviously, is something that's going to come."

Teammates were happy to have Tauscher back, although they acknowledged the protection problems can't be blamed on mistakes by one or two linemen.

"We're not expecting a night-and-day difference, just because we've been working and we do like the group that we have," running back Ryan Grant said. "But we do feel like he brings some good things, and I'm excited to see his face just so I can mess with him a little bit."

McCarthy also said that linebacker Brady Poppinga and practice-squad cornerback Trevor Ford missed Monday's practice with flulike symptoms. McCarthy said the team's medical staff wasn't concerned about a potential swine flu outbreak.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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