The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offensive line depth and "next-man-up" philosophy will be tested once again, as Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks has been placed on injured reserve due to a toe ailment.
The Buccaneers actually moved two players to I.R. on Tuesday, also ending the season of rookie tight end Danny Noble due to a hamstring injury. The team filled one of the two open spots on the roster immediately, promoting third-year guard Roger Allen from the practice squad.
Entering the 2012 season, the Buccaneers expected their offensive line to be one of their major strengths, particularly at guard, where Nicks and Davin Joseph were both coming off Pro Bowl campaigns in 2011. Tampa Bay signed Nicks away from division-rival New Orleans on the first day of the 2012 free agency period in March.
Now, both Pro Bowlers are on the shelf and the Bucs will have to adapt again to keep their recent offensive surge moving. Joseph landed on injured reserve in August after suffering a season-ending knee injury in a preseason win over New England.
Nicks has been playing through a toe injury for much of the season but apparently the issue has become too severe for him to finish the year and he is now scheduled for surgery. The specific ailment is a torn plantar plate, the same injury that recently forced Dallas Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee to injured reserve.
Tampa Bay's depth on the defensive line includes third-year pro Ted Larsen, who started much of the 2010 season at left guard, and third-year player Cody Wallace, who joined the team in early September. In addition, Jeremy Trueblood, the team's opening-day starter at right tackle, recently got practice time on the interior line when the team was contemplating a change at right guard. That spot eventually went to another converted tackle, Jamon Meredith. The Buccaneers may also look outside the team for added depth, though the NFL's traded deadline is on Thursday.
The strong work of the Bucs' offensive line helped produce one of the team's best months of offense ever in October. Tampa Bay led the NFL during the month with averages of 34.0 points per game, 472.0 yards per game and 9.6 yards per play. Josh Freeman, who had a 113.4 passer rating in October, was sacked just four times in three games, and the rushing attack produced 406 yards, 296 by rookie Doug Martin.
Nicks started each of the Bucs' first seven games at left guard. He had a string of 68 consecutive games started, dating back to his 2008 rookie season with the Saints. Nicks made the Pro Bowl following the 2010 and 2011 seasons and was also a first-team Associated Press All-Pro both of those years.
Noble, an undrafted free agent out of Toledo, made the Buccaneers' regular-season roster after a strong preseason showing. He played in each of Tampa Bay's first four games but had been inactive for the last three.
The 6-3, 325-pound Allen originally entered the NFL in 2009 as an undrafted free agent out of Missouri Wesleyan. He signed with the St. Louis Rams and got into two games that year, later spending time on the practice squads in New Orleans and Carolina.