GREEN BAY - During his eight years as the Green Bay Packers' veteran left tackle, Chad Clifton has gone by a number of different nicknames.
There's the unimaginative "Cliffy," which seems more appropriate for a postman who frequents a bar where everyone knows his name. There's "The Big Clip," which his not-so-sensitive offensive linemates coined after Clifton was blindsided by Tampa Bay defensive tackle Warren Sapp in 2002 and suffered serious hip injuries.
But right tackle Mark Tauscher, who like Clifton entered the NFL in 2000 and has been starting on the opposite end of the line ever since, likes his best.
"The best nickname for Cliffy is 'The Big Lamborghini.' That's probably my favorite," said Tauscher, who brags about how he came up with the name. "Cliffy's a guy who needs a lot of maintenance, like a Lamborghini does. You put him out there 16 times, and then you keep him in the garage and keep him finely tuned."
Clifton isn't particularly amused by the moniker, but he doesn't deny that it's pretty accurate.
All kidding aside, the Packers are wise to be cautious with Clifton, whose body appeared to be breaking down last year.
Forced to spend several hours in the training room each day just to be able to practice - he had arthroscopic surgery on both knees and his elbow prior to last season, his third straight offseason during which he had to undergo at least one surgery - Clifton was one of the players who benefitted most from the five days off coach Mike McCarthy gave the team for the bye week.
He'll enter Monday night's game at Denver in perhaps his best health in several years.
"He's a player getting up there in age," McCarthy said of Clifton, who turned 31 in June. "He's had surgeries in the past on his knees. We're just being smart with him."
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Part of being smart with Clifton is limiting him on Wednesdays - normally the heaviest practice day of the week, although this week's schedule is adjusted for the Monday night game - while making sure he gets enough work on Thursdays and Fridays to be ready for game day.
That's vital, because the Packers know firsthand what happens when Clifton isn't available.
When Clifton left the Packers' Sept. 16 game against the New York Giants with an ankle injury, it threw the entire line into disarray. With no capable tackle-only backup on the roster, starting left guard Daryn Colledge had to move to left tackle, right guard Junius Coston moved to left guard and Jason Spitz came off the bench, despite a calf injury, to fill in at right guard.
"It's a little bit difficult (to replace Clifton)," offensive line coach James Campen conceded. "When something happens - we don't use the word 'hurt' - you try to minimize that by having just one move. But in that situation (with Clifton), it's usually a two-move situation. (Against the Giants), that's a three-move. But you have to play it as if nothing's happened."
That is difficult, because although Clifton has never received Pro Bowl recognition, he is considered one of the league's top left tackles. When he allowed a sack in the opener, it was just the 16th he's given up in eight years.
And in the Packers' Sept. 23 victory over San Diego, Clifton and Tauscher shut out Chargers All-Pro linebacker Shawne Merriman, who has 51/2 sacks on the year but was invisible in the Packers' 31-24 victory. Campen said Clifton faced Merriman on 65 percent of the passing plays, Tauscher 35 percent.
"Merriman didn't get a hit, was not around the quarterback in any capacity," Campen said. "The week before he had 21/2 sacks, forced a fumble. He's an outstanding football player."
So is Clifton. And while he said there is no additional pressure knowing what would happen to the line if he were to go down, Clifton said he enjoys being counted on. He certainly enjoys it more than his nickname.
"Definitely, you want to be wanted. If they don't need you, they're probably going to get rid of you," said Clifton, who has missed only one game - that Miami game last year - since Sapp's hit, making 69 of a possible 70 starts. "So if you look at it that way, it's definitely nice to be needed. But it's a two-way street. You also have to produce and go out there and play well, play up to your ability."