"Chad was given an award Saturday for practicing on a Friday," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin joked on Monday, eluding to the light workload Clifton, even when healthy, is given during a typical practice week. "That's a huge improvement in and of itself. "
Clifton, of course, hasn't been healthy in a while. He was last seen on the field Oct. 9, when he sustained a torn right hamstring in the second quarter of the Packers' prime-time win at the Atlanta Falcons. However, his long-awaited return to game action could come on the first day of the new year Sunday, when the Packers host the Detroit Lions to close the regular season.
"We're hopeful Chad can get through the week of practice and play in the game," coach Mike McCarthy said Monday. "That's the goal. But, we've got to get him down to practice Wednesday and see how he does."
Clifton, 35, practiced on a limited basis last week for the first time since he suffered the hamstring injury and also hurt his back during his rehab work.
After Green Bay (14-1) clinched home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with a 35-21 win over the Chicago Bears on Sunday night, the Packers don't have anything riding on the matchup with the Lions. A number of key players could be held out of the game or pulled early from it, so the situation would be ideal for the team to knock the rust off Clifton and see whether he may be able to contribute in the postseason.
"We're ready to move to the next step," McCarthy said.
"I want Chad Clifton to play in this game," he added. "He knows that, and that's the goal. But, it's an injury situation, and what he's gone through the last nine, 10 weeks, we'll take it day by day."
What will the coaching staff need to see out of Clifton to decide if he's the best option at left tackle, where Marshall Newhouse turned in a superb performance against the Bears?
"I think if he's healthy enough and gets some reps with our unit," Philbin said, "I'm sure we'll be able to get a feel for, ‘Boy he's moving out of his stance really well" or "He can't reach that three-technique on the backside." Whatever it may be. I would hope we could figure that out.
More player notes
— WR Greg Jennings, who leads the team with 67 receptions, is expected to miss a third straight game Sunday, when the Packers end the regular season with a home matchup against the Detroit Lions. The NFC's top-seeded team is hoping to have Jennings, who is nursing a left knee sprain, ready for its first game in the playoffs the weekend of Jan. 14-15.
— DE Ryan Pickett was said by head coach Mike McCarthy on Monday to be "getting really close" to returning to the field. The veteran starter has missed the last two games because of a concussion. Whether Pickett is cleared to practice this week and possibly play in the Sunday's regular-season finale against the Detroit Lions is up in the air.
— WR Jordy Nelson had his fourth 100-yard receiving game of the season with a co-game-high six catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns in the 35-21 win over the Chicago Bears on Sunday night. Nelson attained 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in his four-year career, sitting at 1,101, and he has a team-high 12 touchdown receptions.
— WR James Jones also hauled in two of Aaron Rodgers' career-high five touchdown throws Sunday. Jones, who had four catches for 50 yards, has a personal-best seven TD receptions this season.
— OLB Vic So'oto had his first extensive action as a pro on defense during the second half of Sunday's game. So'oto rotated between playing linebacker and defensive end. He produced two tackles, matching his season total coming into the game. He could get a longer look against the Lions, especially if the Packers rest key players in the otherwise meaningless game.
"Vic's a young guy," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "Anytime we have a chance to give him an opportunity, we'd like to give him an opportunity. With these young guys, what I always tell them is you have to make the most of your opportunities and make it hard for us not to get you on the field. He did a couple good things. He's still very raw in some areas."
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