Time to Turn Left Tackle Over to T.J. Lang
Green Bay Packers left tackle Chad Clifton almost made it through an entire game on Sunday before hurting his ankle. He almost made it through the Packers September 20 game with the Cincinnati Bengals before spraining an ankle, as well.
You see where this is going.
Clifton has only played one full game for the Packers this season. His absence has led to some truly atrocious moments from the offensive line, particularly from his early season replacement, Daryn Colledge.
So Clifton will get healthy and everything will be alright. Well, not so fast.
When Clifton has been healthy, he hasn’t played particularly well. Take a look at the four penalties he committed against Detroit on Sunday. Or how about the league-leading 25 sacks the Packers have given up this season? Several of those can be credited to Clifton. The Packers running game? What Packers running game?
Surely, not all the problems with the Packers offensive line are Clifton’s fault. However, when he’s been healthy, Clifton hasn’t performed at a high level. In fact, he hasn’t even performed at a mediocre level for much of the season. It’s not just this season, either. For someone who is widely considered the anchor of the offensive line, Clifton looked a lot more like dead weight last season.
It’s time to face the music. Clifton has performed admirably for a lot of years in Green Bay, but the wheels have fallen off.
Clifton is 33 – not exactly prime time for an NFL tackle. He has knee, shoulder and ankle problems (and more surgeries than I care to count). Clifton, simply, is past his prime. It happens to every NFL player at one time or another.
Clifton says he can play three or four more years in the league. Maybe he can, but it’s time he played those years as a backup.
It’s again questionable whether Clifton can play this Sunday when the Packers face the Browns. If he’s unable to go, rookie T.J. Lang will start in his place.
It’s time the Packers considered making this a permanent move.
Lang has only seen game action against Minnesota and Detroit, but other than allowing a sack by Jared Allen, he has performed well.
“He’s aggressive,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said of Lang. “You see the things that he’s coached to do on film. I thought he played very fundamentally sound in his time [against Detroit].”
Under McCarthy, the Packers aren’t known for making a lot of changes to the starting lineup once the season has started – a possible result being the lack of discipline we detailed earlier today. But if Lang plays well on Sunday, a move like this could be beneficial for a number of reasons.
First, it puts everyone on notice. If a veteran like Clifton can be benched, anyone can be benched.
Second, it helps Lang develop. If this guy is the Packers left tackle of the future, which it looks like he is, then why not get him the work? He’ll only improve on what’s looked like a fairly solid game already.
Third, the offensive line couldn’t possibly get any worse. We’ve detailed Clifton’s struggles and he’s supposed to be one of the better offensive linemen.
Lastly, the Packers never know when Clifton is going to go down again. This is about the time when an NFL tackle’s body begins to betray him. He’s likely to sustain more injuries this season and having uncertainty about who’s going to play left tackle on a given week does a disservice to the offensive line as a whole. There’s no continuity. The unit can’t gel in practice. Assignments get missed. Mistakes happen.
Other than loyalty, there’s no reason for the Packers not to solidify the left tackle position for the next 10 years, right now. And loyalty? That’s what they give out gold watches for.
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