With Chad Clifton hobbling through the first couple of games, it looked like the Green Bay Packers were going to endure another season of uncertainity at left tackle in 2010. Then — like Jake Taylor helping the Indians win the pennant in Major League — Clifton showed that he wasn’t a past-his-prime washout and played a significant role in the Packers run to the Super Bowl.
I love watching Clifton. I love how he lumbers up to the line of scrimage, never appearing to be in too much of a hurry to get into his stance. I love how speed rushers think they can beat him around the edge, then are stopped cold once Clifton get his hands on them. I love how he maximizes his time on the field, refusing to dive wildly into the pile at the end of a play or do something silly that could add additional stress to his aging body.
Clifton is my favorite kind of player: A crafty veteran. There’s a misconception about crafty veterans. Many people think crafty veterans are just old guys past their prime that are only on the field because of career achievements or some intangible leadership skill they bring to the locker room. Sometimes that’s true, but not in Clifton’s case.
Clifton, when healthy, is still a damn good left tackle. He proved it last season by getting selected to the pro bowl. Pro Football Focus ranked Clifton 11th in pass blocking efficiency in 2010. Acme Packing Company points out that 11th is good, but probably not entirely fair since Clifton really came on in the season’s second half after he got healthy. Are there really 10 other left tackles in the NFL you would want on your team ahead of a healthy Clifton?
Clifton is the second most important player to the Packers offense. If he gets hurt or if age finally catches up with him next season, he’s going to be the hardest player to replace next to Aaron Rodgers.
If the regular season starts on time, the Packers are in good shape. Their coaching staff has been in place for a while, their offensive and defensive schemes are entrenched and their mixture of veteran and young talent is as good as any team in the league.
The one thing that could mess all of that up is subpar pass protection, especially from the left tackle position. The Packers need Clifton to stay healthy and productive in 2011-12.
Yes, Ted Thompson has drafted a tackle in the first round of the last two drafts, but that doesn’t mean the Packers can afford to lose Clifton. The last thing the Packers want to do is throw Derek Sherrod at left tackle after no offseason minicamps and (maybe) limited preseason work. Bulaga could probably fill in, but that leaves a hole on the right side.
There’s nothing more frustrtating than watching a good offense implode because of struggles in pass blocking. The NFC North is filled with talented defensive lineman and Clifton has proven that he can still handle all of them when healthy. If he can do it again this season, the Packers chances of repeating are good, and Clifton will further establish himself as the Jake Taylor of Green Bay.——————