Veteran LT Clifton will start playoffs for Packers

Given Chad Clifton’s long and distinguished track record, Mike

McCarthy apparently didn’t need to see much from the veteran left

tackle to give him his job back.

After a long injury layoff, Clifton returned to the field in the

regular-season finale against Detroit. His play wasn’t perfect, but

it was good enough for McCarthy to tell reporters in Green Bay on

Monday that Clifton will start at left tackle in the playoffs.

As far as McCarthy was concerned, the logic behind the decision

was pretty simple.

”Experience, and he’s a good player,” McCarthy said. ”Chad

Clifton is a damn good player.”

Clifton is in his 12th NFL season, all with the Packers, and has

been the team’s primary left tackle since he was a rookie.

McCarthy also could have gone with backup Marshall Newhouse, who

has played relatively well in Clifton’s absence, or observed both

players in practice before deciding on a starter. Instead, he gave

the nod to Clifton right away.

”Marshall’s done an excellent job,” McCarthy said. ”We’ve won

a lot of games with Marshall Newhouse. But Chad Clifton is the

starter. There’s won’t be any gray area for that.”

Clifton played the first quarter of Sunday’s 45-41 victory over

Detroit, the first time he’d been back on the field since hurting

his hamstring in the Packers’ Oct. 9 victory at Atlanta. Clifton

then hurt his back during rehabilitation, keeping him out longer

than expected.

Taking him out early was McCarthy’s plan going into the

game.

”Our goal was to play Chad Clifton 25 plays,” McCarthy said.

”It just sorted out that way after the third series. That was

exactly what we wanted to do.”

McCarthy said there were signs that Clifton had been out for a

while.

”He’s going to be happy with the film,” McCarthy said.

”There’s some things he needs to work on, just some specifics as

far as footwork and the injury, the effects of what he still has to

work on. Having two full weeks of preparation, I’m confident he’ll

get where he needs to be.”

The Packers have clinched the No. 1 seed in the NFC and have a

first-round bye. The defending Super Bowl champions will practice

Wednesday and Thursday this week, then go back to a typical

schedule next week.

”Chad still has a little more work to do,” McCarthy said.

”And we’ve got time to get it done. I’m encouraged by the progress

he’s made and as long as he can stay healthy through these next

couple weeks.”

Clifton said after Sunday’s game that he was ”a little rusty”

at first but his play improved as the game went on. Clifton was

optimistic at the time that he’d get his job back for the playoffs,

although he didn’t seem sure it would happen right away.

”I certainly hope so,” he said. ”I’m sure we’ll look at this

film and they’ll make some decisions. Yeah, I felt it went

decently.”

Clifton said he felt some soreness in his leg but his back

wasn’t bothering him.

”As far as my back goes, it’s not terribly sore, so that’s a

good thing, I guess,” Clifton said.

Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin expects Clifton’s timing to

improve with practice.

”The biggest thing we all know Chad is very gifted out of his

stance and can set up well in pass protection,” Philbin said.

”That’s been a great strength of his over the years. We kind of

teach the punch (technique) as a jab and there’s a lot of rhythm

and timing that’s involved in that punch. Maybe that, in the pass

protection phase, was the most evident there.”

And if Clifton can get back to his old self, he can simplify an

offensive game plan.

”Chad’s played a lot of good football for us here, over the

years,” Philbin said. ”We’re accustomed to kind of not even

worrying about who’s lining up over him, especially in pass

protection. That’s a great comfort when you’re putting together a

game plan. He did some good things (Sunday). I don’t think any of

us were totally surprised, and probably he wasn’t either. There was

a little bit of rust that needs to be polished up. We’ve got a

little bit of time, some practices to get ready for our next

opponent. Hopefully we can keep progressing.”