As devastating as the loss of Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks would seem to be, especially on the heels of Pro Bowl G Davin Joseph’s own trip to I.R. in August, the Buccaneers won’t stop to dwell on it. The team plays its next game on Sunday in Oakland, and the “next-man-up” motto will be applied once again. Someone will be asked to step up into the starting lineup, and the Bucs’ chase of a playoff berth will continue.
So, who might that next man be? Or could the solution actually involve several changes up front?
The answers won’t begin to become clear until Wednesday, when the players return for the start of their practice week. And, if the team’s approach during Week Five, when the Bucs made a switch at right guard from Ted Larsen to Jamon Meredith, is any indication, the final answer may not be revealed until Sunday.
Of course, barring any outside additions to the roster, the options aren’t infinite. The simplest would be to replace Nicks at left guard with reserve Larsen, who opened the season as the team’s starting right guard after the loss of Joseph. Larsen started four games at that spot this year but actually has more experience on the left side, where he opened the final 10 games of 2010.
Larsen also worked at center during training camp, which brings to mind another possibility based on the versatility of one of the team’s current starters. Jeremy Zuttah has started every game at center so far this season, and it is considered his most natural position. However, Zuttah has long been a multi-positional Band-Aid for the Buccaneers, starting four games at right guard and one at left guard in 2008; 16 games at left guard in 2009; eight games at center and one at right guard in 2010; and 13 games at left guard and one at center in 2011.
Obviously, Zuttah has plenty of experience at both guard spots, so he could move one spot either way if the team decides Larsen is best suited to play center. In that scenario, Zuttah could just move to left guard to replace Nicks, or he could move to right guard and the team could try Meredith on the other side of the center.
There may also be some conjecture that the Bucs will look at tackle Jeremy Trueblood as a potential guard replacement. Trueblood was one of the options the team looked at when it was evaluating the possibilities at right guard in Week Five. Like all of the potential scenarios above, however, that will remain nothing but conjecture until the Bucs’ coaching staff reveals its plan to replace Nicks.