Head Coach Mike McCarthy said Clifton is making progress and is hopeful that the 11th-year tackle can practice either Friday or Saturday, with McCarthy’s preference being Friday since the Packers will work in pads after practicing in shells on Thursday.
“Chad is a veteran player,” McCarthy said. “We’ll evaluate his work and his medical situation at the end of the week and make a decision. There is nothing really else to talk about.
“I feel like we have been through this before with him. He needs to practice, and if he is prepared, he’ll play. If not, we feel very comfortable going with Bryan (Bulaga).”
Clifton was limited in practice last week on Wednesday and Thursday before participating fully on Friday, and he started Sunday’s game against Buffalo before leaving with just under six minutes remaining in the second quarter. Bulaga, the Packers’ first-round pick this spring, took over in the veteran’s place for the remainder of the afternoon.
It was Bulaga’s first extended action on offense since the Packers’ second preseason game on Aug. 21 at Seattle. He was sidelined for the final two preseason contests due to a hip flexor injury, but acquitted himself well in his regular-season offensive debut against the Bills.
“It’s probably good for his confidence because it was his first extended playing time and he did a nice job,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “To be honest with you, when I re-watched the film on Monday, I didn’t realize he actually came in in the second quarter. I thought it was not until the second half.
“He did a nice job for us. When you are not thinking about the young guy over there, that is very comforting. When you watch the film and see how well he played, that is also comforting.”
Bulaga’s lone noticeable miscue against the Bills was a false-start penalty in the fourth quarter, but he was part of a line that helped the offense score touchdowns on its first three possessions of the second half. Rodgers was not sacked all afternoon, and the Bills were credited with just two quarterback hits in the game.
“I thought I did all right on Sunday, obviously a lot of things to clean up,” Bulaga said. “I just think fundamentally get a little bit sounder. I think anytime you can get more technically and fundamentally sound in what you are doing, your results will only improve.
“I think the thing I am focused the most on this week is seeing what the opponent is doing and kind of trying to work my technique off of that and how would I be able to defend that.”
If Bulaga is in the starting lineup on Monday night, he will likely see plenty of one of the most productive pass rushers in the NFL in Julius Peppers. Acquired by the Bears as an unrestricted free agent this offseason after playing his first eight seasons in Carolina, the five-time Pro Bowler has registered 82 sacks since entering the league in ’02, No. 3 in the NFL over that span behind only Jason Taylor (89) and Dwight Freeney (87).
“He is a mighty good football player,” Bulaga said. “He has lots of speed, lots of power. He presents a lot of challenges, and then the other defensive end, (Mark) Anderson, also presents a lot of challenges. It’s a good defensive line and they are playing really well right now.
“They are a great defense so there is a lot to prepare from just from the whole defensive line in general.”
The Bears enter Monday night’s game ranked No. 1 in the NFL against the run at an average of just 28.0 yards allowed per game. They limited Detroit and Dallas to a combined 56 yards on 41 carries (1.4 avg.), with the longest run allowed being 8-yard pickups by the Lions’ Jahvid Best and the Cowboys’ Marion Barber.
With Clifton sidelined on Thursday, Bulaga said he took the majority of reps at left tackle with the No. 1 line, while also getting some snaps at left guard and right tackle since he backs up those positions as well. While the veteran isn’t on the field during team work, Bulaga said Clifton has given him some tips during meetings.
“When we are in there watching film we’ll sit there and talk about the defensive ends and the defense and the scheme and just kind of what he would do against that guy,” Bulaga said. “We just talk back and forth about it.”
Facing a division rival on national television in an early battle for first place in the division is reason enough for any player to be anxious to take the field, but playing on Monday night would have a little added meaning for Bulaga. A Woodstock, Ill., native who attended Marian Catholic Central High and grew up a Bears fan, Bulaga admitted that while getting the start against the Bears would be exciting, it would be “looking a little too far ahead” to begin thinking in those terms.
“I am going to approach it like I am going to be in there, and kind of just go from there,” said Bulaga, whose college debut at Iowa ironically came at Soldier Field in 2007 against Northern Illinois. “That’s how I kind of approach every week. Prepare like I am going to be starting, and then if I get my opportunity, then I get my opportunity.
“Chad is the starting left tackle. I think everyone has made that clear here. I know that, I think everyone else knows that, but every week I prepare myself going in thinking, ‘Hey, I could get an opportunity.’”
After the break
After the Packers scored a touchdown and two field goals on their first three possessions in the first half last Sunday against Buffalo, the offense struggled in the second quarter, failing to convert a single third down as it went three-and-out on two second-quarter drives.
As the Packers took a 13-7 lead into halftime, they were greeted by an animated McCarthy in the locker room.
“It is important to see your coach and see how passionate he is and deliver that, but the second half was all about execution,” Rodgers said. “The first half we didn’t convert third downs and the second half we did, and we scored on three straight possessions.
“I know Mike doesn’t want to do that every week and I don’t really think we want to hear that every week either.”
Linebacker Brandon Chillar picked off a Trent Edwards pass on the opening possession of the second half, which gave the offense a short field as it took over at Buffalo’s 39-yard line. Rodgers led the unit on a seven-play drive that was capped off with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Donald Driver, the first of three straight touchdown drives for Green Bay.
The Packers have scored touchdowns on their opening possession of the second half in both games, one of only two teams (Seattle) in the NFL to do so this season. Last year Green Bay scored 20 points all year on its first possessions of the second half.
“(The halftime speeches are) not always in a negative light,” wide receiver Greg Jennings said. “A lot of times we bring them on ourselves because we miss opportunities. Obviously we were up in the game but we felt like we missed a lot of opportunities there in the second quarter. We got off to a fast start and then kind of lulled there in the second quarter.
“That is unacceptable for the type of offense and type of team we are trying to be. You come in at halftime and you don’t want your team to fall into that trap of complacency, so you have got to ride them. He jumped on us and we came back out there in the third quarter and jumped all over them, so it worked.”
Fullback Korey Hall (hip) and linebacker Brady Poppinga (knee) did not participate in Thursday’s practice.
Clifton, tight end Tom Crabtree (arch), defensive end Cullen Jenkins (hand), linebacker Brad Jones (knee) and defensive end Mike Neal (side/rib) were all limited.
Neal, who has missed the first two games with the injury, said he participated in about 75 percent of practice and is hopeful that he will be able to make his pro debut on Monday night.
“Mike did OK,” McCarthy said. “I’m curious to see how he responds in the morning. I don’t think he took every single rep. I had a chance to watch him a little bit during the defensive reps. It was good to have him back out there. He needs the work. He’s a young player.
“I really want to see him go in the padded work tomorrow. We went in shells today because the medical report wasn’t where it needed to be, so we took a step back and went shells and we’ll put the pads on tomorrow, so tomorrow will be a big day for Mike.”
Linebackers Desmond Bishop (hamstring) and Clay Matthews (hamstring), safety Derrick Martin (ankle), and cornerbacks Brandon Underwood (shoulder) and Charles Woodson (toe) participated fully.
It was the first time Underwood was a full participant in practice since injuring his shoulder in the Aug. 26 preseason game against Indianapolis.
For Chicago, linebacker Lance Briggs (ankle), tackle Chris Williams (hamstring) and safety Major Wright (hamstring) did not participate in Thursday’s practice.
Defensive end Israel Idonije (foot) and linebackers Brian Iwuh (quad) and Nick Roach (hamstring) were limited participants.
Additional coverage – Sept. 23