C Sean Mahan shared the reps with the starting offensive line on Wednesday
Quarterback Byron Leftwich graced Head Coach Raheem Morris with a flying chest-bump when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers went out for their morning walk-through on Wednesday. That was Leftwich's way of saying thanks for a gift Morris provided while the players were resting at home Monday night.
That gift: Sean Mahan.
The Buccaneers must determine a new starter at center, at least for a few weeks, because team captain Jeff Faine is out with a triceps injury. They increased their options by one on Tuesday by re-signing Mahan who had been released on September 2, just before the final preseason game. Mahan may or may not make the start on Sunday in Buffalo, and Leftwich wasn't picking sides, but he clearly appreciated having another experienced and familiar option on hand.
"We've got four guys in the building who have worked at center," said Morris, referring to Mahan, left guard starter Jeremy Zuttah and rookies Jonathan Compas and Marc Dile. "Not to say you're not going to miss Jeff Faine, because you are. He is your team leader, your captain. He's a stud, but it's good to have Sean Mahan, especially since [he was here] in the preseason. I'm not in here saying, 'Oh, woe is me. The offense is done. Faine is out.' It happened in the preseason and Sean Mahan went in and played the whole half for us, three weeks in a row. Unfortunately he wasn't one of the best 53 at the time [of the cuts]; now he is."
The Buccaneers can't truly expect to find a replacement of the caliber of Faine, but they do expect to keep the offensive line operating at a high rate of efficiency, as it did in Sunday's opener against Dallas. On Wednesday, as preparations began for the second game of the season, in Buffalo on Sunday, it was Mahan and Compas who split the center reps with the first-team line.
When Faine was injured in the fourth quarter against Dallas, it was Compas who finished the game, holding his own in an offensive scheme that was familiar to him from his days at Cal-Davis. Mahan has the advantage of experience, however, having made 52 NFL starts, including 36 with the Buccaneers, some at center.
Though he also played center at points during the preseason and during training camp, the rookie Dile does not appear to be a strong consideration for Sunday's start. And while he would probably handle the center position as well as he has handled everything else since his arrival in 2008, Zuttah is going to stay put at left guard for the time being. Morris doesn't wish to rob Peter to pay Paul.
"I want to keep Zuttah at home," said Morris. "That thing is working out too well. It is kind of like the old deal with the move of Michael Jordan to point guard because the point guard got hurt. I'm not saying that Zuttah is Michael Jordan but it's one of those deals, moving a guy that is doing pretty well. You let him remain at his B-plus, A [grade] that he is playing and plug in one of the other guys."
Zuttah missed a small part of the second half against Dallas after tweaking an ankle, but he was in practice on Wednesday and was not listed on the first official injury report of the week. There were five players on the Bucs' side of that report, three of whom did not take part in practice: Faine and a pair of rookies, cornerback E.J. Biggers and defensive end Kyle Moore.
Biggers is dealing with a shoulder injury that kept him out of practice all last week, as well. Moore started the week in the mix during Dallas preparations but then suffered a groin injury and, as a game-time decision, was unable to play against the Cowboys.
Wide receiver Antonio Bryant started the Dallas game but didn't finish it, sitting out the fourth quarter as he experienced some discomfort in his surgically-repaired knee. Bryant had an arthroscopic procedure on a meniscus tear in early August and returned on time for the start of the regular season. However, Morris said that the state of Bryant's knee is an issue the team will have to keep an eye on each week, at least in the season's early going.
Tight end John Gilmore, who missed the end of the preseason and the start of the regular season due to an ankle sprain, may be close to returning. A rugged blocker, he was on the practice field but limited on Wednesday. Linebacker Adam Hayward, also out last week with an ankle ailment, also practiced and is not listed on the injury report.
The Bills have four players on their Wednesday injury report, including two defensive starters who did not practice. Paul Posluszny, the starter at middle linebacker, suffered an arm injury against New England on Monday and did not finish the game. Chris Kelsay, the starter at left defensive end, sustained a knee injury.
The other two Bills on the list practiced in a limited capacity on Wednesday: cornerback Drayton Florence (knee) and tight end Derek Fine (hamstring). Neither are listed as starters on the Bills' depth chart.
With opening weekend now in the books, the National Football League has analyzed all 32 team rosters in order to get a feel for the average height, weight, age and experience of a player in the league in 2009.
This analysis, based on the 53-man rosters each team took into the first game of the season, also provides a snapshot of the roster averages across the league. Who has the oldest team? (That's Washington, by the way.) Who has the most players who measure in under six feet tall? (Atlanta and Pittsburgh tie at 15 each.) Who has the most experienced roster? (Washington again, by a large margin over New England.)
Buccaneer players will not be surprised to learn that, at an average of 252.58 pounds per player, the Dallas Cowboys are the league's heaviest team.
The most notable information regarding the Buccaneers in this analysis is that the team's roster has become considerably younger in a short period of time. At opening day in 2008, the Buccaneers had the seventh-oldest roster in the NFL; this year, they began the season with the fifth-youngest crew. The average age of a Buccaneer player is 26.06 years old, which is higher only than the average ages of the Green Bay Packers (25.70), Indianapolis Colts (25.89), Kansas City Chiefs (25.89) and Carolina Panthers (25.98). The average age among all NFL players is 26.61 years old, with the NFC (26.70) coming in a little older than the AFC (26.51) overall.
Tampa Bay also has 12 rookie or first-year players on the roster, second only to Carolina (13) in that category in the NFC. Arizona also has 12 such players on its team. The NFL leader in that category is Miami, with 14, while Pittsburgh and Jacksonville also have 13 each and Cleveland has 12. The average NFL team employs 9.6 rookies or first-year players among its 53 men.
Tampa Bay's roster includes just five players 30 years of age or older. The only team with fewer is Green Bay, which has four.
The average height and weight of a 2009 Buccaneer is 6.19 feet tall and 244.70 pounds. That makes Tampa Bay's roster a bit taller and lighter than most, as the NFL averages are 6.17 and 247.41.
Protecting the Passer and More from the Head Coach
Morris touched on several other subjects after practice on Wednesday, including the notion that Leftwich was hit an undue number of times against Dallas in the opener. Leftwich wasn't sacked — a victory in itself against a team with a 3-4 front and the best sacks-per-pass-play average in the NFL last year — but he was hit on several occasions, mostly down the stretch as the Bucs threw on almost every down in an attempt to make a late comeback.
Morris counted seven hits on Leftwich when he reviewed the game tape, which didn't strike him as an unusually high number. The Buccaneers put a similar amount of pressure on Dallas starter Tony Romo.
"He took seven hits," said Morris. "Four of them came in the last drive, that last touchdown drive. He had three up until that point. It's just when Byron gets hit, it's so obvious because he is so big and tall, he lumbers down and falls slowly. You kind of put more into it. He'll be sore."
Morris said the goal is obviously to help his quarterback finish the game with a clean jersey. But Leftwich is going to take some hits because he's willing to stand in the pocket a bit longer to find an open man.
"He is always going to stand in there," said Morris. "He'll be the guy that stands in there and delivers the football. He is going to hold it a little longer than he should. He is going to do a whole bunch of stuff like that but he is also going to make the play when he holds onto it. He'll make a dynamic throw down the field for a big-time completion like he did with [Michael] Clayton on the one right there before the half. He only got hit seven times, but that is seven too many. Four of them came in that last drive. That is kudos to the offensive line, kudos to those backs."
On what surprised him the most about watching the game tapes: "I can't say I was surprised about really anything. I've seen Cadillac coming along the whole time; I've seen him be dynamic in practice. It's just a matter of time when he got the opportunity to get out there. I've seen Derrick Ward being dynamic in practice and it was just a matter of time until he got out there and people had to tackle him for a whole game. It wasn't a surprise, but to see Leftwich go out there and handle it as well as he did, us protect as well as we did, us communicating, moving down the field as well as we did, as often as we did. I guess it was a little surprising because we haven't done it during the preseason. They put it all together that day and we played pretty well on offense. I wouldn't say I was surprised but it was nice to see."
On if he's confident that they've figured out what went wrong in the secondary: "It wasn't a 'what-went-wrong.' It was four plays. One was a bad technique. One was another bad decision by Sab [Piscitelli], one was a bad technique by E-Mack [Elbert Mack] and one was a miscommunication deal with Sabby and Ronde [Barber], and that was just a dynamic play by a receiver. It's not a 'what-went-wrong.' We can do things to help them and we will. We can do things to play better on defense, with fundamentals and technique."
On no huddle Buffalo ran against the Patriots: "A lot of stuff with that is to keep you from switching personnel groups. When the guy doesn't huddle, they're at the line of scrimmage you're scared to run in a different personnel group, so you have to have all your calls ready to go, whatever they put out there. These guys they come out, they do a lot of the same stuff and they do it over and over and they do it well. That's what they want to do and that's a good strategy, so we have to be prepared to deal with that."
On if CB Aqib Talib will cover WR Terrell Owens: "T.O. is a really good football player. T.O.'s special, but they have Lee Evans too. You forget about the guy on the other side of the ball. He's fast, he's dynamic, he can run. He's from Wisconsin, he's young. He's hungry. They have a new offense, have a new quarterback, new offensive coordinator and they're fired up. Pick your poison. They have Roscoe Parrish, their return man — fast, quick, dynamic. Talib's only one guy, only can cover one of them. The rest of the guys have to step up."