Offensive line coach James Campen gave indications on Thursday that Clifton, who missed 10 full games in the regular season due to hamstring and back injuries, is ready to go.
"He looks good," said Campen. "His wind is excellent. He's done an excellent job with his downtime of keeping his wind and those types of things."
Clifton played just 25 snaps (three series) in his return to action at left tackle against the Lions on Jan. 1. Those were the first snaps he had taken in a game since injuring his hamstring in an Oct. 9 game at Atlanta. He later dealt with back issues stemming from the rehabilitation of his hamstring.
"Just really getting his timing down, his rhythm," said Campen of the goals for Clifton's part-time role in the regular-season finale. "You sit out that many weeks of football (and it's a concern), but Chad's played a lot of football. It's starting to come together for him again. He's progressed well."
Dealing with injuries is nothing new for Clifton. He has had an assortment of challenges since his rookie season in 2000, including the most serious one, a pelvic injury after a blind-side hit by Warren Sapp in 2002 that, at the time, looked career threatening.
To Clifton's credit, he bounced back and always has. Though he often misses chunks of practice time, he rarely misses a game. Prior to this season, Clifton had missed just 17 of a possible 176 regular-season games in his career, which equates to just over 14 games played per season.
"I certainly do expect (him to bounce back from the injury)," said Campen.
While Clifton's age (35) combined with the long layoff and the prospects of going up against Jason Pierre-Paul (16.5 sacks), Osi Umenyiora (nine sacks) or Justin Tuck (five sacks) provides some concern, Clifton appears to be in his best shape all season. If anything, the rest he got might outweigh any rust factor.
"He's fresher now, no question," said Campen. "The other linemen are calling him ‘fresh legs.' Missing 10 games, that will certainly bode well for an older person compared to a younger person. I assume that he feels pretty good right now from that standpoint without the banging and stuff like that. But knowing Chad as I do, I know he wants to feel sore in a good way rather than not play a lot. I know he's excited to get back out there on the field."
After Campen made a positive comment about Clifton's conditioning, one reporter even remarked to Campen that Clifton looked trimmer at Thursday's practice than he did in training camp.
"They have their weigh-ins today, so I don't know," responded Campen. "If you asked him, he probably would tell you he's 290, knowing Chad. He looks good. He looks good. You do have some concerns with the layoff and big people tend to put a few pounds on and he clearly did not. He was working very hard to get to this point to get back on the field. He's put in the time from that standpoint."
Clifton played some of the best football of his career down the stretch in 2010 on the heels of being voted to his first Pro Bowl. Going up against some of the league's top pass rushers over a six-game stretch when one loss would have ended the Packers' season, Clifton gave up just one sack and had just one penalty.
The start of that stretch came against the Giants. In a Dec. 26 game in which the Packers won 45-17 at Lambeau Field, Clifton allowed just one quarterback hit and one pressure in 41 pass blocking attempts (according to Pro Football Focus). By comparison, Packers'= right tackle Bryan Bulaga allowed a sack, a hit, and four pressures in the same amount of attempts.
Marshall Newhouse, who took over as the starter this season at left tackle while Clifton was out, struggled against the Giants in New York on Dec. 4. Facing primarily Pierre-Paul, he had arguably his worst game of the season allowing five quarterback pressures, three quarterback hits, and one sack while committing one penalty.
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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at email@example.com