GREEN BAY – At 35 years old, Chad Clifton is the oldest projected starting left tackle in the NFL in 2011, but his coach isn’t panicking after the Green Bay Packers 12th-year veteran struggled in Friday night’s exhibition victory at Indianapolis.
Coach Mike McCarthy on Sunday dismissed questions about Clifton, who allowed a pair of sacks to Colts former all-pro defensive end Dwight Freeney and also committed a holding penalty that wiped out a touchdown against the Colts.
“I have all the confidence in the world in Chad Clifton. Like I’ve stated, Chad Clifton’s played at a Pro Bowl level in my time here, and I expect him to play at that level this year,” McCarthy said. “I don’t know what else to tell you. He had a handful of plays I’m sure he wishes he had back.”
The first of Clifton’s two sacks allowed put an end to a potential touchdown drive and forced the Packers to settle for a field goal. The second came on a third-and-11 play, leading to a punt. After the holding penalty wiped out a 20-yard Aaron Rodgers-to-Chastin West touchdown pass, kicker Mason Crobsy missed a 41-yard field goal.
“I definitely had a rough day at the office, there’s no doubt about that,” Clifton said after the game. “There’s no question, today was just unacceptable.”
Clifton said his chronically troublesome knees “feel pretty good.” Asked about the sacks, Clifton replied, “The first one, I just got bull-rushed. The second one, I was kind of playing for the bull (rush) and he ended up spinning. So he got me on those. There’s no excuses for it. It’s just a bad day at the office. Have to learn from it. Have to grow and get better from it.”
Asked if he got tired, Clifton replied, “It doesn’t matter. It’s my job to perform at a high level, no matter what’s being called, what we’re doing, and obviously that just didn’t happen.”
There may be something to the idea of Clifton being fatigued, however, as all three negative plays came toward the end of no-huddle drives. McCarthy acknowledged that the no-huddle offense can be tiring for the big guys up front – “You have to be in good condition to go eight-, nine-, 10-, 11-play drives, especially at no-huddle pace,” he said – and given that Clifton rarely participates fully in practices because of his advanced age and injury history may be a factor.
“Chad practices every day. It’s how you practice him. Chad’s not not practicing,” McCarthy said. “It’s a lot like an older quarterback throwing the ball. Chad Clifton’s on a pitch count. There’s extra conditioning, there’s also a program that involves his time in the training room. So it’s really all three parts – strength and conditioning, the training room, and the practice field.”
Because McCarthy doesn’t do team conditioning drills during practice, opting instead to use his up-tempo practice style as built-in conditioning work, the Packers could increase Clifton’s practice workload. But McCarthy said it’s not that simple.
“There’s a lot of information that goes into a player’s reps in practice. It’s not just, ‘The guy didn’t play well on two plays, now we’re going to practice him more the next day.’ That’s not how it works,” said McCarthy, whose team opens regular-season play in 11 days, against the New Orleans Saints at Lambeau Field on Sept. 8.
“There’s obviously a lot of time and thought that goes into Chad Clifton. Chad Clifton’s played a lot of football here, he’s played at a Pro Bowl level in my time here in Green Bay, but he’s had significant medical issues in the past. So his practice time is discussed on a daily basis, and it’s something where you have to find the common ground between getting the man ready but also making sure he’s ready for the games (health-wise). There’s a process. It’s not affected by the way he performs or doesn’t perform two days ago.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today,” and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.