G Jeb Terry knows that every practice you miss is one more chance for the next man on the depth chart to move up
Jeb Terry recently missed about two weeks of work due to his health. While he was away, his best friend at the office took his job.
That would be a tough turn of events to swallow for, say, a computer technician or a pilot or an assembly line manager. When you work in the NFL, however, that danger comes with the territory.
Making matters worse (or maybe, in a way, better), Terry can't even hold it against his good friend, who in this case is fellow Tampa Bay Buccaneers guard Sean Mahan. Terry wants Mahan to succeed, he wanted the team to do well in his absence, and he would have done the exact same thing Mahan did. Nevertheless, Terry plans to keep working until the job is his once again.
The position in question is starting right guard on the Buccaneers' under-construction offensive line. When training camp opened, Terry was in that spot, with Mahan sort of a super-reserve set to battle for a starting spot wherever he was needed – right guard, left guard or center. Mahan was a star in the early going at camp and was definitely pushing for Terry's spot even when both men where healthy.
Of course, one possible solution that would make both young friends on the Bucs' roster happy was evident in the preseason opener. With Matt Stinchcomb fighting a lower-back strain, Mahan moved over to left guard and Terry remained in on the right side. The Bucs rushed for 169 yards in that game and allowed only two sacks, winning at Tennessee, 20-17 in overtime.
Unfortunately, Terry suffered a sprain of the MCL ligament in his right knee. Not the catastrophic ACL injury, this one still put him on the shelf for roughly three weeks and naturally pushed Mahan back over to the right side. That worked even with Stinchcomb still out because rookie guard Dan Buenning – another of the new wave of young linemen hoping to reshape the Bucs' front – began playing very well at left guard. Mahan settled in and began drawing weekly postgame praise from Head Coach Jon Gruden.
Terry could do nothing but watch. Literally. The treatment for his injury called for a lot of rest, his leg immobilized by a brace. He slept in the brace and basically tried to keep off his knee as much as possible. Training camp ended, two more games passed and the Bucs began to see possibilities in the Mahan-Buenning combination.
"It was hugely frustrating," admitted Terry. "It's the nature of this business – every time you go down it's bad that you're hurt but it's also bad because it gives the guy behind you the opportunity to step up and play. In my situation, the person who's been playing has been playing well. I've just got to come back and keep fighting and hope to win my job back."
Fortunately, Terry knows that Gruden, in his relentless quest to improve the offensive line and get a reliable running game going, will go with the five best players he can put on the field. Terry merely has to get back into the groove he had established in the offseason and play as well as he can; the team will find a way to get both Mahan and Terry on the field if they deserve it.
"Sean's my best friend on the team," said Terry. "We're real close, we hang out all the time. Of course I want him to succeed, definitely. But I also want to succeed. You try not to let that competition carry out of here, and you don't let it get to you or get into the middle of your friendship. But I'm fighting to get that job back."
Terry can also take comfort in the fact that he plays the game in the style Gruden is trying to develop for the running game: hard-nosed, physical and aggressive. At 6-5 and 311 pounds, he is one of the biggest blockers the team has, and he tries to make the most of his size.
"That's pretty much my 'm.o.,'" said Terry. "I try to play as physically as possible and let the other aspects catch up to that. If you can play tough and physically, getting after the guy in front of you, everything else comes easily."
That's hard to do with one knee, but Terry feels as if he is sound again. The knee felt good during the abbreviated week of practice leading up to Thursday's preseason finale against Houston, and he has been cleared to play. Terry says the biggest issue is getting his conditioning back to where it needs to be after two weeks of inactivity, but he thinks playing in the game will get him back into the flow.
Terry knows he'll play on Thursday, but he hasn't been told to what extent. That's nothing personal against the second-year guard; Gruden has taken that approach with all of his players this preseason, trying to build pressure by putting men into unexpected situations. There is even a chance that Terry will take a few series at right tackle, since starter Kenyatta Walker will be out with his own knee injury. Rookie Chris Colmer is expected to start and play most of the game at that spot, but Terry knows to stay prepared for anything. He played a little right tackle in college and feels comfortable at either spot on that end of the line.
"From what I understand, I might be getting in there a little bit, too, depending on the circumstances," said Terry. "But the right side is where I played all during college. Once you start doing that, you get a sort of muscle memory for that side."
The Bucs, who usually dress only seven offensive linemen on game day during the regular season, need versatility from their linemen in order to make that plan work. That sort of flexibility allowed Mahan to take advantage of Terry's absence and put a grip on the right guard job. Terry is going to fight to get that particular position back, but he'll play anywhere the team needs him.
"I'm confident I'm going to get on the field this year, at some position," he said. "I know I can play, and I'm pretty sure that I'm going to be on the field a lot this year."