GREEN BAY – The Green Bay Packers will be without veteran left tackle Chad Clifton for at least the next few weeks because of a hamstring injury suffered in Sunday night’s victory at Atlanta, but coach Mike McCarthy is confident in the team’s three young tackles who’ll fill the void.
McCarthy said Monday that the 35-year-old Clifton, a two-time Pro Bowl selection who is the oldest starting left tackle in the NFL, suffered “a significant hamstring injury” during the second quarter of the team’s 25-14 victory over the Falcons.
“It’ll probably take a couple weeks for us to get our hands around how significant the injury is,” said McCarthy, whose team plays at home against the St. Louis Rams this Sunday and at Minnesota on Oct. 23 before a Week 8 bye. “He’ll be out for a number of weeks.”
McCarthy said he and general manager Ted Thompson discussed their roster options but that no move is imminent. The team will have a roster spot available when it formally places Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins, who suffered a career-threatening neck injury Sept. 18 and underwent season-ending surgery Sept. 27, on injured reserve.
Asked if they considered placing Clifton on IR and ending his season, McCarthy replied, “We’re not going to do anything for the next couple weeks. We have to get more information.”
Because backups Marshall Newhouse and Derek Sherrod performed reasonably well following Clifton’s injury, and because second-year tackle Bryan Bulaga expects to return to his starting role after missing the last two games with a knee injury, McCarthy believes the team can survive until Clifton recovers.
Bulaga, the team’s 2010 first-round pick from Iowa, took over for veteran Mark Tauscher as the team’s starting right tackle five games into his rookie season last year. He went on to become the youngest player in NFL history to start a Super Bowl at age 21 in February.
When Bulaga suffered a knee injury at Chicago on Sept. 25, the team turned to Newhouse, a 2010 fifth-round pick from TCU, as his replacement. And when Clifton went down Sunday night, offensive line coach James Campen shifted Newhouse to left tackle and sent in Sherrod, the club’s first-round pick from Mississippi State in April, to play right tackle. With only eight offensive linemen on the 53-man roster, the only remaining healthy lineman on the bench after Clifton’s injury was second-year guard/center Evan Dietrich-Smith.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked a season-high four times by the Falcons, but only one of the sacks was charged to a tackle – an 11-yard sack by Lawrence Sidbury that Sherrod allowed seven plays after Clifton was injured.
“(They) just needed to settle in,” McCarthy said. “I thought Derek played well in the second half. I thought Marshall played well at right tackle and went over and didn’t miss a beat at left tackle. I was pleased with the tackles’ performances.”
To their credit, neither Newhouse nor Sherrod seemed overwhelmed on Sunday night, which offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said allowed the coaches to proceed with their game plan.
“The best thing we can say about the performance of Newhouse and Sherrod is, we didn’t change our offense a whole lot,” Philbin said. “Now, we all probably looked a little closer, but we didn’t have a big pow-wow and say, ‘God, we have to change our offense. We have to have a tight end line up next to Derek every single play, and we’ve got to have a back next to Marshall every single play.’”
The Packers’ approach with the three tackles – the oldest of which is Newhouse, 23 – is consistent with their draft-and-develop philosophy. Young players must be prepared to play, as evidenced by the team’s Super Bowl XLV triumph after placing a whopping 15 players on season-ending injured reserve last year.
“Obviously it was tough seeing Chad hurt. You never want that,” Newhouse said. “But we’re all about picking up and moving on. Guys have to step in and step up. We don’t just expect you to come in and play, we expect you to play well and help us win.
“Derek’s a young guy like myself, and (we were) definitely trying to manage the highs and lows of the game, knowing there’s going to be some rough times. But you just have to keep fighting through.”
Added Sherrod: “I (wasn’t) nervous at all. I’m comfortable at either position and I’m comfortable playing with every single one of my teammates.:
Bulaga, meanwhile, said after the game that he expects to play against the Rams. McCarthy said Bulaga will be reevaluated on Wednesday by the team’s medical staff to determine if he’ll be cleared to return.
“Things are looking good. Things are looking up,” Bulaga said. “We have a positive outlook on it.”
McCarthy refused to say whether Bulaga would play left or right tackle upon his return, but if Bulaga is cleared, he and Newhouse would likely be the starters with Sherrod as the backup.
“How we play Marshall, Derek and Bryan will really be determined over the next couple of days,” McCarthy said. “They’re young; they have the ability to get better. They all have excellent work habits and talent to work with. We’ve seen the jump that Bryan and Marshall have made from Year 1 to Year 2, and Derek’s going to have to make his quicker. This is our program, this is how we operate, and we need to continue to do a good job of making sure our younger players are ready to play. And this is a perfect example of it.”
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.