Before he went on injured reserve, however, Nicks was playing the game as well as ever and – in the eyes of some accomplished talent evaluators – as fundamentally sound as ever. That latter point was emphasized on Monday when the Buccaneer guard was one of just 26 players in the NFL to be named to the 2012 USA Football All-Fundamentals Team.
Since 2009, USA Football has been assembling its annual All-Fundamentals Team (AFT) in order to recognize players who "exhibit exemplary football techniques for youth players to emulate." USA Football is the sport's national governing body in the U.S. and it strives to set standards for youth football in regards to skill development and safety. Calling attention to players such as Nicks, specifically for the way they play their positions rather than any statistics they accumulate, provides young players with prominent examples to follow.
Nicks, who was also named to the 2011 AFT team, was once again honored to be considered a role model for his approach to the game.
“It’s a great feeling," he said. "I’ve been playing football since I was a little kid, and to be at the level I’m at and to have someone say you’re doing it the right way and know that kids look up to you, I never dreamed that would happen. It’s a great experience, and I’m very thankful.”
Candidates for the All-Fundamentals Team are evaluated by such experienced football evaluators as Carl Peterson, Herm Edwards, Charles Davis, Merril Hoge and Tom Carter. With Nicks they focused on such elements of his guard play as establishing a wide base, generating leg drive and keeping his elbows tight to generate power and control. These things may come naturally at this point to Nicks, a two-time Pro Bowler who was one of the NFL's most sought-after free agents last March, but that's the results of countless hours of practice.
“I feel proud to uphold not only my position, but the whole game of football, and try to compete at the highest level," said Nicks. "This honor is humbling, but it’s also nice to be acknowledged for the hard work we put in, day in and day out.”
While the All-Fundamentals Team is not based on statistics, the 2012 version does include some of the game's brightest stars, including Nicks, Atlanta QB Matt Ryan, Baltimore DT Haloti Ngata, Chicago CB Charles Tillman and Houston DE J.J. Watt. The team is built something like an All-Pro team, rather than a Pro Bowl roster, with 11 selections each on offense and defense and four additional special-teamers. Each player named to the team receives a $1,500 equipment grant from USA Football to donate to the youth or high school football program of his choice.
There is one more level to the selection of the team, and fans can take part in it. Three team captains will be chosen by fan vote on the USA Football Facebook page, and each captain will then receive an additional $3,000 equipment grant to donate and an All-Fundamentals Team helmet trophy. Click here to go cast your vote; balloting continues through Jan. 21.
Nicks is the third Buccaneer to be named to one of USA Football's All-Fundamentals Team, joining return man Clifton Smith in 2009 and linebacker Barrett Ruud in 2010. Nicks is the first Buccaneer to make the team twice, though he was playing for the Saints when he first caught the selection committee's eyes in 2011.