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Day-After Notes: Injuries Leave O-Line In State Of Flux

The Packers’ offensive line remains in a state of flux due to some injuries that just do not seem to be going away. Chad Clifton came out of Sunday’s game against Detroit in the third quarter after re-aggravating the ankle injury originally sustained in Week 2. The latest injury isn’t as bad as the original one, but his availability for this week remains in question. - More Mike McCarthy Press Conference Transcript - Oct. 19

The Green Bay Packers' offensive line remains in a state of flux due to some injuries that just do not seem to be going away.

Left tackle Chad Clifton came out of Sunday's game against Detroit in the third quarter after re-aggravating the ankle injury originally sustained in Week 2 against Cincinnati. Head Coach Mike McCarthy and Clifton himself both said on Monday that the latest injury isn't as bad as the original one, which forced Clifton to miss 2½ games, but his availability for this week remains in question.

"I knew it was obviously the ankle," said Clifton of getting hurt on a goal-line play in the third quarter, after also playing through a minor tweak or two earlier in the game. "But the big thing is it's not as worse as it was the first time. Actually today it feels much, much better."

McCarthy said Clifton most likely would not practice on Wednesday, but if he is healthy enough to practice later in the week, he'd have a chance to play in Cleveland on Sunday. Clifton said he's "definitely hopeful."

Rookie T.J. Lang took Clifton's place against the Lions and would get the call again if Clifton has to sit out. It was the second straight game in which Lang got some action at left tackle. He also played there in the fourth quarter two weeks ago at Minnesota when Clifton's original replacement, Daryn Colledge, also left with an injury.

McCarthy has been impressed with what Lang has done in his limited time at left tackle, particularly in Minnesota in the loud Metrodome against premier pass rusher Jared Allen. Well ahead in the Detroit game, the Packers didn't pass much when Lang came in Sunday, but he did fine.

"He's responded very well, and I think every time he gets an opportunity to practice one position for the whole week it's only going to help him," McCarthy said. "He's aggressive. You see the things that he's coached to do on film. I thought he played very fundamentally sound in his time in there yesterday."

The early returns at left tackle for Lang are a pleasant surprise because even though it's a position he played his final 2½ seasons at Eastern Michigan, he didn't play it much, if at all, during his rookie training camp when he worked mostly at left guard and some at right tackle.

Scouting reports indicated that Lang didn't have long enough arms for the tackle position to fend off polished edge rushers, but so far his length hasn't been a liability.

"He's got good feet, number one. That's probably as important as anything," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "We teach in pass protection that set is the most important thing. That's getting your body in between the guy you're assigned to and the quarterback. That's related to your feet and your balance and your coordination and your quickness more than it is your punch (with the arms)."

McCarthy admitted when Lang came in as a fourth-round draft pick, the coaching staff wasn't sure where he'd fit the best, and it's still not clear tackle is his best position long term. But he's the top backup there for now, and with the rematch against Minnesota and Allen looming in two weeks, Lang's readiness will be paramount if Clifton has any trouble recovering a second time from the ankle sprain.

Who will start at center this week also remains somewhat uncertain. Late last week, Jason Spitz began experiencing lower back spasms, and not feeling confident he'd be able to make it through a full game, he was de-activated on Sunday and replaced in the starting lineup by Scott Wells.

McCarthy didn't try to predict whether Spitz would be able to practice this week, saying only that "he's still having some discomfort with his lower back."

As for the newest addition to the offensive line, veteran right tackle Mark Tauscher, McCarthy said he may need another week before he's put into the team (11-on-11) drills in practice. It will take a certain amount of team snaps before Tauscher would be ready to possibly play in a game.

Nelson out for now

Receiver and return man Jordy Nelson sustained a sprained knee in Sunday's game while recovering his own muffed punt, and McCarthy said he could be out a couple of weeks.

That leaves the Packers to try cornerback Tramon Williams, running back Brandon Jackson and receiver Brett Swain on kickoff returns, while Williams, Charles Woodson and Swain would get looks on punts.

Williams ripped off a 45-yard punt return on Sunday before the coaching staff decided to go with Woodson later in the game with the winds picking up. No one else was used on kickoffs after Nelson's opening return for a touchdown (called back on a penalty) because the Lions never kicked off again.

On offense, Nelson had been sharing time as the No. 3 receiver with James Jones, but now that job will fall almost exclusively to Jones, who had a 47-yard touchdown catch on the game's opening drive yesterday, as well as an 8-yard reception for a first down.

That was Jones' most productive game so far this season, but it appears now he'll have a chance to improve on that.

"This is an opportunity for him to get more snaps and make some more plays for us," Philbin said.

"He's been solid. He's been catching the ball well. I think his route-running has been pretty good, and I think he's been making a good contribution so far. But obviously the next couple of weeks it looks like it has a chance to become greater."

Black marks

The two ugly numbers from Sunday's win were the penalties (13 for 130 yards) and the sacks (five for 30 lost yards, plus one lost fumble).

{sportsad300}Penalties have been a problem the past couple of seasons, and the 13 in Sunday's game tied for the highest total in a game since McCarthy took over as head coach. The Packers also had 13 in back-to-back road wins in 2007, at Denver and Kansas City. The 130 yards are second-most under McCarthy, behind the 142 in the 2007 road loss at Dallas.

In Sunday's game, five of the penalties were pre-snap infractions on the offense for 25 yards, including four on Clifton (two illegal formation, two false start). Five others were 15-yard personal fouls, on five different players. Two were for facemask penalties (Desmond Bishop, Nick Barnett) and two for late hits (Colledge, Donald Driver).

In a rather lengthy exchange with the media on Monday over the penalties, McCarthy emphasized that the penalties will be addressed.

"I don't think we're not disciplined," he said. "We're probably not as clean as what we need to be, and that's what we're working to improve on. We just have to keep working at it."

As for the sacks, which pushed the Packers' league-high total to 25 on the season, McCarthy said the major problem was communication on protection adjustments when the Lions went with something other than a standard four-man rush.

To this point in the season, the Packers had actually handled blitzes fairly well but had the most trouble with one-on-one assignments against regular defensive fronts. On Sunday, the protection unit didn't adjust properly at times to the different looks, which falls on communication between the quarterback, linemen and running backs.

"I told our guys I hope they were happy with the victory but disappointed in the way it looked, because it's still not the quality and consistency that we need to really be a sound offense," Philbin said. "We talk to our guys all the time about being sound. It's the No. 1 thing in our identity, and we haven't hit that target yet. We're not there yet."

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