The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are replacing injured left guard Carl Nicks with the man who logged the most starts at that position over the last three years.
The Buccaneers were forced to shuffle their offensive front once again when Nicks was sent to injured reserve due to a toe ailment that requires surgery. Third-year veteran Ted Larsen replaces Nicks in the starting five, but not at left guard. Instead, former starting center Jeremy Zuttah will slide one spot to his left and Larsen will take over at center.
"We put Carl on the I.R. and that's certainly a big loss for our football team but we've adjusted and we're ready to move forward," said Head Coach Greg Schiano.
In his first four seasons, before being installed as the center in 2012, Zuttah made 44 starts and 30 of them came at left guard. That includes the entire 2009 season and 13 of the 16 games last year.
"Jeremy Zuttah will play the left guard position and Ted Larsen will be starting at center," said Schiano. "That's after investigating and going through all the different scenarios; we think that's what's best, not only today but moving forward. So that's what we've decided to do."
Larsen also has experience at left guard, having manned that position for the final 11 games of his 2010 rookie campaign. He started this year at right guard after the preseason loss of the team's other Pro Bowl guard, Davin Joseph, but was replaced after four games by converted tackle Jamon Meredith. Schiano thinks the new alignment, while obviously hurt by the loss of Nicks, is better suited for Larsen's talents. Zuttah's experience at left guard definitely played into the team's decisions up front, too.
"It certainly did," said Schiano. "And I think it's also where Ted is better suited. If he's going to be in the lineup for a continued period of time, I think Ted's better at center. So I think when you look at it, you don't really look at it as one guy's strength but as how are we the strongest, all five together."
If the new-look offensive line is successful on Sunday in Oakland, that will be a particularly good sign. The interior line won't face too many tests this season more difficult than the Raiders' DT duo of Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly.
"Our offensive line is going to have a challenge," said Schiano. "Seymour and Kelly in there in the middle are as big and dominating of forces as we'll see all year. We're going to hold up on the offensive line, and hopefully with Doug [Martin] running the ball and LeGarrette [Blount] helping out and then throwing the ball down the field…we've got to take our shots and hopefully we'll hit some."
The move of Nicks to injured reserve hurt, but Tampa Bay's roster is otherwise quite healthy heading into Sunday's Week Nine contest. Cornerback Eric Wright, who was a concern early in the week with a sore Achilles tendon, was practicing fully by Friday and will start against the Raiders. DE Michael Bennett (ankle), the team's sack leader, is also good to go.
The Buccaneers deactivated the following seven players for Sunday's game: RB Michael Smith, CB Danny Gorrer, DB Keith Tandy, LB Jacob Cutrera, LB Najee Goode, G Roger Allen and WR Chris Owusu.
Oakland's seven game-day inactives were QB Terrelle Pryor, CB Shawntae Spencer, LB Keenan Clayton, T Khalif Barnes, OL Lucas Nix, DE Jack Crawford and DT Christo Bilukidi. Spencer and Barnes were out due to injury.
The Bucs and Raiders will kick off their prime-time contest at 4:05 p.m. ET. The game will be televised in the Tampa Bay area on FOX and will be broadcast on radio through the Buccaneers Radio Network and its flagship station, US 103.5 FM. That radio broadcast will also be carried live on Buccaneers.com. Buccaneers.com will post a running blog of all the action on Sunday, and will also provide coverage of the team's postgame press conferences.