Offensive guards are one of the unsung heroes in football. Entire offenses can be made or broken because of them and rarely does a guard get the attention they deserve. The Bucs were fortunate to land arguably the best interior lineman in the league when they signed Carl Nicks to a five-year, $47.5 million contract in the offseason.
On paper, the Bucs had one of the best O-lines in the NFL at the time. Eight months later, they have only two of the five starters on the line – with Davin Joseph and Carl Nicks being placed on IR and Jeremy Trueblood benched.
Over the last month, the Bucs’ offense has found its identity. A team who faced trepidation from its fanbase when the season began has now taken shape into what looks to be, quite simply, a handful for opposing defenses and they did it without their leader and Pro-Bowl right guard, Davin Joseph. And now Tampa Bay will try to continue on their upswing without one of the best guards in the game.
In the month of October, the Bucs are averaging 472 yards and 34 points per game and 9.6 yards per play and overall have given up the fifth fewest sacks in the league, 11.
It had appeared as though the Bucs offense was starting to resemble a well-oiled machine. Through seven games Josh Freeman has roughly half the passing yards he did in all of 2011 and is two touchdowns shy of the 16 the fourth-year QB threw for last season. Freeman hasn’t thrown an interception in two weeks and sits at five picks entering Week 8.
Against Minnesota, Doug Martin appeared to be forming into the player the Bucs expected when they traded their second round and switched fourth rounders with Denver in order to move back into the opening round of April’s draft to select the former Boise State product. The rookie running back put up a combined 214 yards – 135 yards on the ground and caught three passes for 79 yards and added both a rushing and receiving touchdown last Thursday against the Vikings.
With the passing and running game in sync, Tampa Bays’ offense was showing the promise the team and fans had been hoping for. Part of the success of the offense is directly related to Nicks. Now, the Bucs’ may let Ted Larsen get another crack at being a starter.
When the Buccaneers’ leader and rock Joseph was sidelined for the season after sustaining a knee injury against New England in preseason, Larsen initially stepped in.
The third-year offensive lineman struggled at RG and was replaced by Jamon Meredith, but Larsen has experience playing on the left side - in 2010, the backup center started 11 games at left guard.
The Bucs also have the option of using third-year guard Cody Wallace and activated Roger Allen from the practice squad Tuesday.
Although there are never guarantees, especially with the trade deadline set for Thursday at 4:00, one thing is certain - losing Nicks is a huge blow to the Bucs. With the Raiders game quickly approaching, offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan believes they have to pick up the pieces and move on.
“There’s no question it’s a tough loss,” Sullivan said. “And we’re going to support and pull for him on his long road to recovery. But the one thing we can’t do is dwell on the impact and be upset and frustrated and overwhelmed with self-pity and ‘What are we going to do? Woe is me,’ because nobody cares and we have to move forward. And I think that there may be certain plays or concepts that would have been better suited when he’s there, but I think there’s enough versatility in what we do both in the run game and the pass game that we can continue to move forward. And other guys just have to step up and pull together.”