It's no coincidence that the Packers played their best ball during a six-game winning streak that ended in confetti in the Super Bowl. Clifton was superb, allowing just one sack and three quarterback hits during that span.
"It's just getting in the weight room, doing extra, doing all I can do to stay strong and as fit as possible," Clifton told Packer Report after smothering the Giants' Osi Umenyiora in the Week 16 game. "As you get older, you definitely have to do more outside of just practicing and your normal, everyday routine to be effective. It's just realizing that and doing whatever it takes."
Last season, however, was something of an anomaly for Clifton. He started all 20 games and played 94.1 percent of the offensive snaps. In 2009, he missed four games, departed early in four others and played in 72.8 percent of the snaps. In 2008, he played in 15 games and 88.5 percent of the snaps. In 2007, the last time in which he started every game, he played 93.3 percent of the snaps. In 2006, he played in 15 games and 93.1 percent of the snaps. In 2005, he started all 16 games and played in 94.2 percent of the snaps.
Can Clifton, with so much mileage on him, be counted on to show up and protect Aaron Rodgers' blind side week after week after week again? And if not, what is the level of security behind him?
In 2010, the Packers — concerned about Clifton's age and nagging injuries — used their first-round draft pick on Bryan Bulaga. That Clifton was able to go every week allowed Bulaga to move to right tackle when veteran Mark Tauscher went down. In April, the Packers used their first-round pick on Derek Sherrod, who is probably a better pure left tackle prospect than Bulaga. Sherrod is highly intelligent but the lockout deprived him of a rookie camp, four weeks of organized team activities and a minicamp. That's six weeks of on-the-field work that vanished, meaning his ability to replace Clifton in a pinch — at least early in the season — has been severely impacted.
Fact is, the Packers need Clifton to do it one more time. With matchups against Kansas City's Tamba Hali (second in sacks), Atlanta's John Abraham (fifth), Carolina's Charles Johnson (tied seventh), Umenyiora (tied seventh), San Diego's Shaun Phillips (tied 10th) and Minnesota's Jared Allen (tied 10th), Clifton is set to play seven games against the top 10 sackers of 2010. And that doesn't include Denver's Elvis Dumervil, who led the NFL in sacks in 2009, and two matchups against Chicago's Julius Peppers.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport.