G Davin Joseph has emerged as a leader on the Bucs' rapidly-improving offensive line
The encouraging stats from Sunday night's 27-10 win over the New England Patriots will be wiped clean when the regular season begins in less than three weeks. The Buccaneers hope the same is true of the one less encouraging thing to come out of Sunday's game: A foot fracture that sent starting right guard Davin Joseph into surgery on Tuesday.
Joseph will not play in Saturday's game against Jacksonville, but beyond that his status is still to be determined. While it seems likely that Joseph's preseason work is done, the team is holding out hope that the rising third-year star will be able to launch his regular season with only a brief interruption…or none at all.
Head Coach Jon Gruden compared Joseph's foot injury to the one that kept linebacker Cato June out of the playoff game against New York last winter. Gruden also predicted that Joseph's toughness will work in his favor as he rehabs from surgery.
"Davin is the kind of guy that might take the boot off and play, knowing him," said Gruden. "So I'm not going to discount him playing in the opener or the third week of the season. I'm just going to say that, right now, he will not play against Jacksonville. There's a chance he might not be ready for a couple weeks."
Joseph injured his right foot during the first half of Tampa Bay's 27-10 win over the Patriots. Before leaving the game, the third-year lineman out of Oklahoma helped the Bucs rack up 114 rushing yards and hold New England without a sack through the first two quarters.
It is that type of cohesive performance that the Bucs were expecting to get out of their young and talented line this season. That hope remains, of course, but they may have to get it with a slightly different lineup, at least for a short time. For that reason, Wednesday's news was particularly unwelcome…and yet it also presented the type of challenge that can energize a coaching staff.
"I'm not happy with it, to be honest with you," said Gruden. "I'm sick for Davin Joseph – he's one of the ringleaders on this football team. So I'm disappointed, I'm hurt for him. I'm also confident that we have the stuff to pick up the slack while he's getting himself ready to play. Obviously it's a tough blow for us here at this time but it's also very exciting for somebody to step up."
Given the praise they received for their work at all three interior line positions during training camp, rookie Jeremy Zuttah and fourth-year man Dan Buenning look like the obvious candidates to fill in at right guard while Joseph is out. Zuttah, a third-round pick out of Rutgers, has been particularly impressive in his first NFL training camp, but Gruden was not ready to anoint the rookie as a starter just yet.
"We're working on our rotations at this point in time," said Gruden. "Obviously Jeremy Zuttah will be a factor at that position. Dan Buenning has experience playing guard. There are the possibilities of adding a player here or there, so I don't want to say too much right now at this point. We're confident in the guys we have."
This is the second time in three seasons that Joseph has been clipped by an injury prior to the start of the regular season. As a rookie in 2006, the first-round pick out of Oklahoma won the starting right guard job in camp and then sustained a knee sprain in practice before the regular-season opener. He missed three games and played only as a reserve in the fourth.
Joseph went on to start the last 12 games of his rookie campaign and all 16 contests last year. His performances in those 28 games has the Bucs convinced that he will be a pillar on the team's line for many years to come. He came back strong from that 2006 injury and is heading into his current rehab stint with a very good attitude, according to his teammates.
"He sounds very upbeat, very positive," said Jeremy Trueblood, who starts next to Joseph at right tackle. "He's a glass-half-full type of guy, so nothing like this would ever faze him anyways. He'll probably be back stronger and better. I'm sorry for the defense."