Donald Penn is going to have a new teammate lined up next to him at left guard on Sunday when the Buccaneers take on the Oakland Raiders. Whoever that proves to be, Penn is going to know what he is going through…and he’ll know what a wonderful opportunity it is.
The Buccaneers suffered a significant blow to their increasingly prolific offense on Tuesday when guard Carl Nicks was moved to injured reserve due to a toe ailment. Nicks and Penn had given the Buccaneers a Pro Bowl left side of the offensive line, but now the deck is being shuffled again, just like it was two months ago when Pro Bowl right guard Davin Joseph went down with a knee injury.
“Man, losing Carl is big,” said Penn. “Carl is one of the best guards in the league. You cannot sit there and honestly say losing Carl is not going to hurt you. He’s the best guard in the league and losing him is going to be big. But we’ve got to step up. The next person up has got to step up, whoever it’s going to be.”
That’s something Penn did five years ago, in one afternoon going from obscure reserve to starter at one of the most critical positions in the game. Luke Petitgout began the 2007 season as the Buccaneers’ starter at left tackle but was felled by a knee injury four games in, during a win at Carolina. Penn stepped into the lineup in the middle of that game, and next week made his first NFL start. He has started 83 consecutive games for Tampa Bay since.
“That’s how I got my start,” he said. “That’s how a lot of these people get their starts in the league. You’ve got to come and step up. It’s going to be hard replacing Carl just like it was hard replacing Dav. Whoever steps up, they’ve got to play like they are Carl.”
After signing a lucrative free agency deal in March, Nicks was expected to lock down the left guard spot next to Penn after the team bounced between Keydrick Vincent, Larsen and Zuttah over the previous two seasons (Zuttah now starts at center). That plan is now gone, and the new starter could once again be Larsen or Zuttah, or it could be reserve Cody Wallace or tackle Jeremy Trueblood, making a move inside. Whoever it is, Penn will still be there in his usual spot, and that will help the replacement make a smooth transition.
“That’s how it goes,” said Penn. “I’m going to try to help those guys. Whoever it is, I’m going to try to help them as much as I can, try to give them whatever help I can from my experience. We’re going to be alright.”