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Chad Clifton finds 'fountain of youth'

Earlier this winter, a few of you questioned the left tackle of our 2010 All-NFC North team. I awarded the spot to the Detroit Lions' Jeff Backus over the Chad Clifton of the Green Bay Packers, in part because Clifton gave up twice as many sacks as Backus based on film review by the reputable STATS Inc.

Russ of Milan, Ill., wrote that Clifton's performance against Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison "was absolutely key in the Super Bowl" and reason enough to merit first-team status in the NFC North. But overall, I felt Backus was steadier over the course of the season than Clifton -- who played so poorly in September that it wasn't clear if he would finish the season.

With that said, it's only fair to deliver to you what Packers coach Mike McCarthy said earlier this month when I asked him about the possibility of Bryan Bulaga one day replacing Clifton at left tackle.

"We feel ability-wise that he definitely has the ability to play left tackle," McCarthy said. "But Chad, maybe he found the fountain of youth. If you look at his grades, particularly down the stretch, the last six or seven games, that's the best string of games he's put together in my five years...."

Six or seven games does not a season make. But it's almost impossible to make an objective evaluation of offensive linemen without knowing the play call, protection schemes and the specific assignment of each player. McCarthy had that information as he evaluated the tape, so I'm more than willing to acknowledge Clifton finished the season even stronger than I believed.