The Tampa Bay Buccaneers haven't wasted any time putting Sean Mahan back to work.
Roughly two weeks after releasing him from their roster, the Bucs re-signed Mahan on Monday once they learned starting center Jeff Faine would miss several weeks of action due to a triceps injury he sustained vs. Dallas.
Mahan, 29, has 52 career starts under his belt in the NFL, and despite the layoff, the former 2003 fifth-round pick out of Notre Dame likely will start at center vs. Buffalo on Sunday.
"I think so," Mahan said when asked if he'd start at center vs. Buffalo. "You can probably ask Coach Morris that, but as of right now I'm going to run with the first-team offense. It should be a smooth transition."
But Raheem Morris stopped short of announcing Mahan as Tampa Bay's starting center while Faine nurses his injury. The competition is between Mahan and rookie Jonathan Compas, who was acquired off waivers from Oakland just a few weeks ago.
“It’s not to say you’re not going to miss Jeff Faine because you are, but it’s good to have Sean Mahan, and I’ve got four guys that can play center,” said Morris. “We were missing Faine in preseason. Mahan went in there and played the whole half for us for three weeks straight. He wasn’t one of the best 53 at the time. Now he is.”
During the offseason, the Bucs approached Mahan about restructuring his contract. He was scheduled to earn $3 million in base salary, but reworked his deal and agreed to a restructured base salary of $1.6 million.
Still, the Bucs opted to part ways with Mahan towards the end of preseason in an effort to retain younger centers Marc Dile and Compas, who finished the game at center after Faine was injured Sunday.
The 6-foot-3, 301-pound Mahan opted to leave Tampa Bay as a free agent in 2007, signing a five-year contract with Pittsburgh. The Bucs re-acquired Mahan in a trade with the Steelers last year.
Several other teams expressed interest in signing Mahan when he was released a few weeks ago, but he was waiting for the right situation. In fact, Mahan even turned down an opportunity to play with the Oakland Raiders, and was scheduled to fly to Cleveland to meet with the Browns when Tampa Bay called him Monday.
Bucs offensive coordinator Greg Olson said the team will miss Faine, but knows Tampa Bay was fortunate to be able to re-sign Mahan.
“I don’t want to understate the value of Jeff Faine,” said Olson. “That was a critical, big, big loss for the Buccaneers, both for the overall team and the offense. He could arguably be considered one of the best players on our offense. It’s a big loss. We have Compas and Mahan. Both those players will rep this week and we’ll make a decision in terms of who we’re going to start on Sunday.”
Once the opportunity presented itself, Mahan didn't hesitate to re-join the Bucs, who signed him to a one-year deal worth $620,000 and includes playing time incentives.
"I've always loved Tampa," said Mahan. "This is where my family and I call home. I've been with the Buccaneers organization for six years now. It's definitely a good situation. I don't have to move or learn a new playbook or meet new teammates. It's comfortable here."
Mahan is also comfortable with starting quarterback Byron Leftwich, whom he played with in Pittsburgh and spent quite a bit of time working with as a Buccaneer during the offseason and in training camp and preseason.
"Byron and I are pretty much on the same page," said Mahan. "Between now and the game we'll do a lot of film-watching together and do some other things. But it should be pretty smooth."
Even if he starts in place of Faine at center, it is not clear how long Mahan will remain in Tampa Bay. It will all depend on how quickly Faine recovers from the triceps injury he sustained Sunday.
"It's basically what Coach Morris said," said Faine. "We have to see how the injury progresses. Right now we're taking it week-by-week. Hopefully I'll bounce back sooner rather than later."
Mahan has some big shoes to fill. Faine, who signed a multi-year, lucrative contract with the Bucs during the 2008 offseason, started all 16 games for Tampa Bay en route to receiving Pro Bowl consideration in his Bucs debut.
The Buccaneers rushed for 178 yards and two touchdowns, and did not allow a sack against Dallas last week. Faine is confident the Bucs offensive line will not miss a beat with Mahan in the lineup.
"Sean has a pretty good feel for this offense," said Faine. "He's a tested veteran that should be able to stand in and do a pretty good job there. He is going to come back and he's going to do a pretty good job. He knows the offense pretty well. He was here for the entire camp, so I feel confident he'll stand in there and do a good job."
Bucs left tackle Donald Penn can relate to Mahan's situation. The former undrafted free agent was forced to play at left tackle in place of injured T Luke Petitgout in Week 4 of the 2007 regular season. He has started every game at that position since then. Like Faine, Penn believes Mahan is capable of anchoring the offensive line from the center position.
"We're real confident in Sean," said Penn. "He's started a lot of games here and played a lot of football in the league. I don't think it's going to be a big drop off. I was in the same position when somebody went down and I had to come in and step up. I feel Sean is going to fill the void there and we'll be good."
While he has a significant amount of playing and starting experience in the NFL, Mahan will lean on his training camp and preseason playing time the most. He saw significant action at center while Faine was battling back and groin injuries in during the offseason and into camp and preseason.
"That's going to be valuable," said Mahan. "You can't put a price on experience and getting your feet wet in there. It helped a lot being able to play extensively in the preseason. That should help a lot."
In other injury news, Faine (triceps), wide receiver Antonio Bryant (knee), defensive lineman Kyle Moore (groin) and cornerback E.J. Biggers (shoulder) were held out of Wednesday's practice at One Buc Place.
Faine has already been ruled out of the game in Buffalo. He will be replaced by Mahan or Compas. Bryant is considered day-to-day.
Linebacker Adam Hayward (ankle), guard Jeremy Zuttah (ankle) tight end John Gilmore (quad) are participating in practice today.