The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are looking for any help they can get after starting the 2009 regular season with a 0-5 record.
The good news for the winless Bucs is help is on the way. Injured center Jeff Faine is scheduled to return to action this week and on Sunday when the Bucs host the 1-3 Carolina Panthers.
"I expect to play this week," said Faine. "I'll go out and practice on Wednesday, and see how it feels. I'll just go from there. My personal expectations are to go out and play this week."
Faine has been sidelined since the fourth quarter of Tampa Bay's Week 1 contest vs. Dallas due to triceps injury. Although his injury hasn't completely healed, Faine is anxious to return to action in an effort to help the Bucs record their first win under head coach Raheem Morris.
"I'm not 100 percent," said Faine. "But I feel good enough to go out and play and contribute to this team and help try and get a win.
"I was really wanting to go back last week. It was just against my doctor's wishes. I respected that. I'm just ready to go this week."
The 6-foot-3, 291-pound Faine has hit the weight room hard during his four-game absence. While the triceps injury isn't completely healthy, Faine is more concerned with helping the Bucs win than he is re-injuring his arm.
"I don't know. There's a risk in going out there, period," said Faine. "I'm not really concerned about that. If it happens it happens. Hopefully it won't. It's back to the point where I'm not risking that. I think it's just my normal risk. I'm not too concerned about that."
Faine, 28, became the highest-paid center in the NFL in 2008 when he signed with the Buccaneers in free agency. The former first-round pick started all 16 regular season games for Tampa Bay in 2008, and helped the Bucs offense get off to an impressive start this season when Tampa Bay wracked up 450 yards vs. Dallas, including 174 yards on the ground.
But the Bucs offense has struggled without Faine, who was replaced by reserve offensive lineman Sean Mahan. After starting the season with the fourth-ranked offense, Tampa Bay's offense currently ranks 26th, including 28th in the running game, averaging just 95 yards rushing per contest.
"It's been very frustrating," said Faine. "I'm kind of handcuffed, not able to help and not able to contribute the way I want to. I'm hoping to get back out there and help as much as possible."
The offensive production isn't the only thing that's changed since the last time Faine was in the starting lineup. The Bucs have since benched quarterback Byron Leftwich in favor of second-year QB Josh Johnson, who will make his third career start on Sunday.
Faine said he's fairly comfortable playing with Johnson from the reps they took together during organized team activities.
"We worked quite a bit together in the offseason," said Faine. "He's a smart player. He's from that [former Bucs head coach Jon] Gruden offense where he was here working first thing in the morning. He's got it upstairs. Us having worked a lot together helps, I think."
After having him sidelined with back, groin and triceps injuries this year, the Bucs are hoping Faine will become a permanent fixture along their offensive line.
"He definitely helps you with all of the protection issues you might have in there," Morris said of Faine. "He makes the calls and he's the leader out there. That's not to say Sean Mahan didn't do a good job, but that's Jeff Faine. It's a significant upgrade as far as the center position go."