In his ongoing quest to start the Green Bay Packers' 2003 regular-season opener, still more than a month away, offensive tackle Chad Clifton cleared yet another hurdle Friday.
Tripped over it, actually.
Taking part in the team's morning training camp practice at the Don Hutson Center, Clifton became entangled in a pile at his feet at toppled over. Yet the 6-foot-5, 330-pounder got up feeling no ill effects.
For any other player it wouldn't have been anything memorable. Something for the bloopers video, maybe, not the highlights reel.
But for Clifton, a player coming back from severe pelvic and hip injuries that ended his 2002 season, not to mention an offseason knee scope, it was something to boast about.
"Every day," Clifton said, "(I) get a little more comfortable."
It takes plays like that to help him along. As physically debilitating as was the Warren Sapp hit that left Clifton crumpled on the turf of Raymond James Stadium last November, Clifton has suggested that the ugliest and most lingering of his scars are psychological ones.
And the only way to learn if he has the strength to get up, is by falling.
"Today I got rolled up from behind, and I'm absolutely fine," Clifton said Friday, sounding pleased and even a bit surprised.
"No pain at all. That was a big step for me, I think, because that's a game situation. Things like that happen in games. It's inevitable. And so I was able to take that (fall) and keep going."
Hits and falls in practice are the closest thing to game action Clifton is going to see for a while. That goes for fellow tackle Mark Tauscher as well, who now is more than 10 months removed from tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in the Packers' Week 2 loss to the New Orleans Saints last season.
Neither starting tackle will be available in the upcoming preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs this Monday. In fact, both will probably sit out the first two preseason games in their entirety before getting limited reps against the Cleveland Browns, August 15.
The time off is designed to protect Clifton and Tauscher, but it also provides the coaching staff additional opportunity to evaluate their backups, which include second-year player Kevin Barry and rookie Brennan Curtin.
After seeing the offensive line become so depleted last season that center Mike Flanagan had to shift out to tackle for eight starts, it's time offensive line coach Larry Beightol dearly needs.
"I don't want to go through what I went through last year," Beightol said.
"We need to have some solid people backing these guys up. I'm talking about guys who can play, not just the guys who have won the job by default . . . We want the cream to come to the top."
That appears to be happening. Through 11 days of practice, Clifton and Tauscher continue to progress without almost any signs of setbacks.
Clifton indicated that his only pain in recent weeks has been "standard soreness that you have from camp," and Tauscher admitted that he's battled some stiffness in his knee, but nothing "ridiculously bad."
Nothing to set off any alarms at least, or to suggest that the pair won't be ready when the Minnesota Vikings roll into town, September 7.
Said Beightol, "We want them back in the starting lineup and right now it looks like that's the way it's going to work out."