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Packer puts it all back together

After completing another workout with Packers trainers Friday afternoon inside Lambeau Field, Chad Clifton felt invigorated.

What a difference from Thanksgiving, when Clifton was bedridden and sleep-deprived, needing painkillers and a walkie-talkie to ask his wife, Candy, for everything from food and drink to lifting his legs for him.

Doctors said his injuries were more like those of a car wreck survivor, not a football player.

It has been a tough battle back for the talented 26-year-old starting left tackle from being blindsided Nov. 24 by Bucs tackle Warren Sapp to taking these major steps, first without a walker, then without crutches and finally without a limp.

He vows his career is not finished despite ligament and muscle damage in his abdomen, groin and leg that resulted from his violent impact with the ground after Sapp's hit, which led to an angry exchange between Sapp and Packers coach Mike Sherman.

Sherman called it a cheap shot because the play happened away from the ball, but Clifton since has said it's all part of the game. The league ruled that Sapp didn't break any rules with the hit.

Clifton has circled the start of training camp in July on the calendar for his return and is certain he will play in the season opener.

"We're shooting for training camp, and if I can get back for some of the minicamps, that would just be icing on the cake," Clifton said. "(Training camp) is very attainable. I don't know if we'll be going both practices for that first week; we may only be doing one practice. It's going to depend on how I feel."

Normally at this time of year the third-year pro would be in Martin, Tenn., enjoying the company of family and friends.

Instead he's in the trainer's room four or five days a week for two or three hours at a time, grimacing through painful leg presses and squats but thankful to be able to do them.

"I know what I have to do to get back on the field, and that's my main concern right now," Clifton said. "You know, for two months I couldn't do really anything, so it's kind of refreshing to be able to get into the training room and in the weight room."

Clifton has a lot of work to do, as he's not even running yet, but he and trainer Pepper Burruss are optimistic.

"The main thing is he's getting the soreness out of the groin," Burruss said. "That's been resolving, so he's doing really well. We have no reason to stress and push these areas because we've got time on our side."

Clifton said his pubic symphysis, the joint between the pubic bones in the front of the pelvis, was separated. The muscles and ligaments surrounding the area were torn. Also torn were muscle tissue in his upper groin and abdomen, which created a hematoma, an abnormal collection of blood.

Bedridden five weeks, Clifton lost 20 pounds and said most of it was muscle he expects to regain by lifting weights. Clifton weighs around 315 and would like to get close to last season's 327.

He said he is confident he will have a full and productive season based on his recovery so far and is motivated to return to the level of play that made him a second-round pick out of Tennessee.

"All I've heard is, "Well, you're never going to be able to play again,' " he said. "I can't wait to get out there and show everybody that it's fine and put this behind me.