PALM BEACH, Fla. – Mike McCarthy did not say anything was certain, but the Green Bay Packers coach sure sounded like a man who expects both veteran left tackle Chad Clifton and veteran wide receiver Donald Driver to be on the team’s 2012 roster.
While there still could be a financial component to their returns – both Clifton and Driver carry salary-cap charges of $5 million or more for 2012 – McCarthy gave no indication that Clifton, who’ll be 36 in June, and Driver, who turned 37 in February, won’t be back.
McCarthy was asked directly during Wednesday’s NFC coaches breakfast at the NFL Meetings if Clifton, who played in just six games last season because of hamstring and back injuries and underwent back surgery after the season ended, will be on the roster this season.
“There’s definitely a possibility,” McCarthy replied. “We haven’t taken him off, so he’s someone we’ll continue to talk about and get the reports. He’s down in Tennessee now, so we’ll see how he recovers.”
Asked if Clifton would compete for the starting left tackle job that has been his since his rookie year of 2000, McCarthy replied by saying that Clifton’s practice availability is based on his health.
“Chad, he’s going to be on a pitch count. He can’t go through a full training camp and it’s been like that for some time,” McCarthy said. “It’s a medical decision. That’s what it will come down to.”
The Packers also have Bryan Bulaga Marshall Newhouse and an injured Derek Sherrod as possible left tackle starters, and free-agent tackle Demetrius Bell is reportedly scheduled to visit the team next week as well.
Driver, meanwhile, showed that he had something left in the tank even before hitting the Dancing with the Stars dance floor. Once he ceded his starting job to Jordy Nelson and settled into a backup role, Driver seemed to play better. He caught all three passes thrown his direction, including one for a touchdown, in the playoff loss to the New York Giants to end the season, a game in which receivers had seven drops by McCarthy’s count.
“Donald’s still on our roster,” McCarthy said. “I thought Donald, the second half of the season, he played very well. His role, as far as opportunities, was not as high as it’s been in the past, but I thought Donald was very consistent down the stretch. I thought he played well in the playoff game.”
McCarthy acknowledged that the team likes practice-squad receivers Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel, both of whom stayed on the practice squad (with salary bumps) despite offers from other teams to join their 53-man rosters. But the team’s affinity for those two young receivers doesn’t preclude Driver’s return, McCarthy said.
“We don’t just try to get four receivers or five receivers and stop there. You want to get as many as you can,” McCarthy said. “The beauty of the draft is probably the last 10 years, that’s the one position where there’s a lot of guys. That’s just the way they’re playing football in college these days. That’s definitely a position where you want to be fluid if you can.
“But yeah, we’re always trying to develop our guys. If I was a young football player, I’d want to stay in Green Bay because of the amount of time we spend the coaches spend with the young players. We dedicate a lot of extra time.”
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