Last week, Pewter Report reported that there is an open competition in Tampa Bay for the starting left guard job between incumbent Arron Sears and second-year pro Jeremy Zuttah. Right now, the on-field focus at left guard is solely on Zuttah, who has been working with the first team as Sears has been unable to get medical clearance to practice due to a neurological issue, which has the team concerned.
A source tells Pewter Report that Sears has not been medically cleared to practice during the OTAs and that Sears has been dealing with the effects of a concussion. Neurological tests have not come back positively and there is a possible chance that his career could be in jeopardy unless his condition improves. Pewter Report has confirmed that Sears does not have a physical injury that can be rehabilitated with the training staff and that he has not been at the team’s facility for weeks.
The Buccaneers have been very tight-lipped on Sears’ situation and are obviously hoping for a positive, medical outcome. Sears has not been made available to the media despite repeated attempts, and team officials have not commented publicly regarding the specifics related to his absence. Calls and e-mails into Sears’ representatives have not been returned.
What’s odd is that Sears has only appeared on the Bucs’ injury report once with a concussion in his two years in Tampa Bay, and that came last year in Week 9. There were no reports of Sears having concussions from his days at Tennessee.
Studies of the effect concussions have on pro football players’ brains are still ongoing, but the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE) at Boston University School of Medicine have concluded that brain damage, which is called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), can occur, according to a report on CNN.com.
As a result, headaches, depression, Alzheimer’s disease and other mental disorders can occur from brain damage, which is likely why the Bucs are being so cautious with Sears’ neurological condition and not clearing him to return to practice. It is not known if Sears is suffering with any of those severe effects.
If he were unable to resume playing football this season that would be a big blow to the team in the fact that the Bucs have invested one of their two 2007 second-round picks in Sears, and he has been a two-year starter at left guard. That blow may be lessened by the emergence of Zuttah, a third-round pick last year, who started the first four games of the 2008 season for right guard Davin Joseph. Zuttah, whose athleticism, strength and intelligence suit him well for the team’s new zone-blocking scheme, actually started the Week 9 game at Kansas City at left guard in place of Sears, who missed that game with a concussion and a back injury.
Last week before Pewter Report knew of the nature of Sears’ condition, Bucs offensive line coach Pete Mangurian indicated that Sears might not be ready for the start of training camp.
“We’ll see where that goes. I hope he’s ready for training camp,” said Mangurian. “In the meantime, this gives Jeremy Zuttah an opportunity to jump in there and show what he can do.
“Right now Arron has been out for a while. He hasn’t been practicing for the last couple of days, but I can’t tell you much beyond that at this point.”
Sears was practicing at the team’s mini-camp in early April, which makes his absence from OTAs in May even more curious. Although the OTAs and mini-camps are non-contact, helmets do collide when offensive and defensive linemen square off in practice and Sears may have gotten another concussion during the mandatory mini-camp.
If Zuttah winds up being the starting left guard in 2009 and Sears is unable to play this season, the Bucs would not lack experienced depth behind Zuttah and Joseph. Sean Mahan, the team’s backup center, has experience playing guard and started 17 games in 2005 at right guard, while starting nine games at left guard and three at right guard in 2006.
But outside of Mahan, the team only has undrafted free agent Maurice Miller, and may have to move an offensive tackle like rookie Xavier Fulton, the team’s fifth-round draft pick, Anthony Alabi, Julius Wilson or undrafted free agent Marc Dile to guard for depth purposes.
Sears was chosen with the 35th overall selection in the 2007 NFL Draft. The 6-foot-3, 319-pounder has started 31 out of 32 career NFL games since then with the lone absence coming against Kansas City due to a concussion. Former head coach Jon Gruden consistently praised Sears’ play since coming into the NFL, at one point calling him the team’s best lineman.