NFC South: Carl Nicks

One of the biggest question of the offseason for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers remains unanswered.

Will Carl Nicks be ready for the start of training camp in late July?

That appears to be anyone’s guess right now. Nicks, who missed almost all of last season with a toe injury and a MRSA infection, previously has said he expects to be ready for training camp. But it remains to be seen if he still is on target. The team has been quiet about Nicks’ status.

He was seen working with trainers on the side during the early part of the offseason program. But, at least on the days the media is allowed to watch workouts, Nicks has not been seen in several weeks.

Oniel Cousins and Jamon Meredith have been working as the first-team guards in recent weeks. The Bucs close out their offseason program with a minicamp that runs Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
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TAMPA, Fla. -- A wrap-up of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' draft. Click here for a full list of Buccaneers draftees.

[+] EnlargeMike Evans
Thomas B. Shea/Getty ImagesMike Evans can begin his career as Tampa Bay's
No. 2 receiver opposite Vincent Jackson.
Best move: There was a lot of smoke about the Buccaneers possibly drafting quarterback Johnny Manziel. But Tampa Bay’s top target all along was wide receiver Mike Evans. The Bucs got him with the seventh overall pick. Evans projects as an immediate starter opposite Vincent Jackson. At 6-foot-4, Evans has a frame similar to Jackson, and this duo is going to cause matchup problems for opposing defenses. Evans can begin his career as the No. 2 receiver, but Jackson already is in his 30s. It might not be long before Evans takes over as the No. 1 receiver. By resisting the urge to take Manziel, the Bucs made it very clear they view Josh McCown as their short-term starter and Mike Glennon as their quarterback of the future. Evans’ arrival makes both McCown and Glennon better.

Riskiest move: The Bucs began the draft without a clear-cut starter at right guard. They still don’t have one. They did take guard Kadeem Edwards out of Tennessee State and Purdue's Kevin Pamphile, who projects as a tackle, in the fifth round. But it’s a lot to expect a fifth-round pick to be an immediate starter. The Bucs might have to keep an eye on the free-agent market to get their starting right guard. There also are health concerns with left guard Carl Nicks, so Tampa Bay doesn't have a lot of depth at guard.

Most surprising move: The selection of running back Charles Sims in the third round. The team already had a deep stable of running backs with Doug Martin, Mike James, Bobby Rainey and Jeff Demps. It wasn’t really necessary to add another back to the mix. But Sims isn’t a typical back. He was used extensively as a receiver out of the backfield in college, and it’s likely the Bucs want to take advantage of those skills. We don’t know what coordinator Jeff Tedford’s offense will look like just yet. But, with the addition of Sims, it probably is fair to say the Bucs want to throw some passes to a running back.

File it away: You generally don’t expect a sixth-round pick to get playing time early, but Wyoming wide receiver Robert Herron has a shot. The Bucs have an opening for a slot receiver, and Herron has speed to spare. He’ll get a chance to compete for the slot receiver spot. Herron also has return skills and could factor in on special teams.
TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers finally got around to addressing their offensive line.

They took two offensive linemen in the fifth round. They got guard Kadeem Edwards out of Tennessee State with their own pick. They then traded back into the fifth round to take tackle Kevin Pamphile out of Purdue with the 149th overall pick.

Depth on the offensive line was an issue coming into the draft. There’s no clear-cut starter at right guard and there are health concerns about left guard Carl Nicks.

From a depth perspective, it’s good that the Bucs have added some depth to the line. But it’s probably unrealistic to expect a fifth-round pick to be an immediate starter.
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TAMPA, Fla. -- The pick: Charles Sims, running back, West Virginia.

My take: This wasn't a position of need for the Buccaneers, who already have a crowded backfield with Doug Martin, Mike James, Bobby Rainey and Jeff Demps. But the team had Sims highly rated and made the move. The Bucs have said they want a backfield rotation this year, but they could end up having to part ways with a talented back or two.

Good hands: The Bucs took Sims largely because they felt he was the best receiver among the running backs. Sims spent the first three years of his career at Houston before transferring to West Virginia. He’s been productive as a runner and a receiver.

What's next: The Bucs currently don’t have a fourth-round pick (it went to the New York Jets in last year’s trade for Darrelle Revis). They’ve done a nice job filling some needs, but there still is a glaring need at guard, where there’s no clear-cut starter on the right side and there are health concerns with left guard Carl Nicks.

Plan B for the Buccaneers?

April, 30, 2014
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Virtually every mock draft I’ve seen recently has the Tampa Bay Buccaneers taking either a wide receiver or a quarterback.

Texas A&M’s Mike Evans is the popular pick among receivers, and his college teammate, quarterback Johnny Manziel, has been frequently tied to the Bucs.

Matthews
Lewan
But let’s turn hypothetical here. Let’s say that Evans and Manziel are drafted before Tampa Bay picks at No. 7. Or let’s say the hidden reality is that the Bucs don’t like Evans or Manziel as much as everyone seems to think.

Is there a Plan B in place?

Coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht are bright guys, and you can bet they have contingency plans ready. Licht has made it abundantly clear that the Bucs would be willing to trade down, which I think is a real possibility.

But let’s stick with our hypothetical here and say the Bucs stay at No. 7 and either can’t or don’t want to draft Manziel or Evans. What direction does Tampa Bay go in that scenario?

This is just a hunch, but I wouldn’t rule out the offensive line. Yeah, the Bucs spent good money to get left tackle Anthony Collins and center Evan Dietrich-Smith. But there still is uncertainty on the offensive line.

The job at right guard is wide open, and it's unclear if guard Carl Nicks can fully recover from a toe injury. Nicks has said there is nerve damage and he might have to play in pain for the rest of his career.

That is why I’m thinking there is a real chance the Bucs select an offensive lineman at No. 7. There aren’t any true guards worthy of that pick. But there are three tackles that could be available, and none of them would be a bad choice.
Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews and Taylor Lewan all could be available when Tampa Bay picks. The consensus is that Robinson is slightly ahead of Matthews and Lewan, but some mocks have all three going in the top 10 picks.

I can see the Bucs taking any one of the three. They could plug that player in at guard for the short term and eventually move him to tackle. That would give Tampa Bay’s offensive line a big boost and firm up one of the few glaring weaknesses.

It’s just a thought, but going with an offensive lineman might not be a bad option for the Bucs.
With the first minicamp over, let’s take a look at whose stock is on the way up and whose is on the way down.

FALLING

Carl Nicks. Although the team had said before the minicamp that there was optimism Nicks would be ready to go, he wasn’t. He still is recovering from a toe injury that sidelined him almost all of last season. Nicks said he’s making progress in his recovery and he expects to be ready for training camp. But Nicks also admitted he has nerve damage in his foot and may have to play through pain the rest of his career. It’s time to start wondering if Nicks will be the same player he was before the injury.

Luke Stocker. There’s no clear-cut starter at tight end and Stocker should be in the mix. But he was sidelined with an unspecified injury. Stocker missed most of last year with an injury. He may already have fallen behind Brandon Myers and Tim Wright on the depth chart.

Da'Quan Bowers. He didn’t take part in drills as he recovers from an unspecified injury. Some players can afford to miss minicamp. Bowers isn’t one of them. The defensive end might have trouble even making the regular-season roster.

RISING

Chris Owusu. The Bucs have a glaring need at wide receiver and Owusu used the minicamp to show he can contribute. He’s not in line for a starting job, but could end up as the third, fourth or fifth receiver.

Josh McCown. Tampa Bay’s new quarterback looked exceptionally sharp. His passes were very accurate and he seemed to have a good grasp of the new offense. McCown already is well on the way to establishing himself as a team leader.

Bobby Rainey. The backup running back isn’t a threat to beat out Doug Martin. But Rainey might be on his way to earning some playing time. Rainey looked very good in the minicamp and showed some signs he can contribute as a pass-catcher out of the backfield.
TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are about to begin the first minicamp practice under new coach Lovie Smith. But All-Pro guard Carl Nicks will not be taking part in the drills.

Although the team previously had expressed optimism that Nicks would be able to participate in the offseason program, Nicks said he still is in the rehabilitation process. Nicks missed all but two games last season with a toe injury and a MRSA staph infection. Nicks said he wouldn't try to estimate where his recovery stands, but sounded optimistic he'll get back on the field

Nicks
"I don't know about a percentage," Nicks said. "I'm not a percentage guy. I've never been that guy. But obviously I'm not ready to practice right now. But I feel comfortable saying I'll be back for training camp."

That would be good news for an offensive line that's been overhauled this offseason. But Nicks, who first revealed there was nerve damage to his toe last year, said he might have to play through pain the rest of his career.

"There's some nerve damage, so there's going to be pain, from what I've been told, for the rest of my life," Nicks said.

Nicks said he wasn't sure if the nerve damage was caused by the toe injury or the MRSA.

"That's a good question," Nicks said. "I wish I had the answer."

Nicks said he might return at less than 100 percent, but said he remains confident he'll return to the playing field.

"Lovie told me the other day my 80 percent is still pretty good," Nicks said. "If I'm not 100 percent, hopefully I can get 95 or 99.99 and I'd be happy with it."

Nicks said he's anxious to play again.

"I've got the chicken pox when it comes to that," Nicks said. "Scratching it all the time. Very itchy. I don't want to force it, I don't want to rush it. When I come back I want to be able to play more than two games."

Minicamp questions for the Bucs

April, 22, 2014
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As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers begin a three-day minicamp Tuesday, let's explore some of the biggest questions facing the team.

Is there really a competition at quarterback? Not in minicamp, where most of the time is spent installing the offense. Josh McCown will get the first-team work and Mike Glennon will work with the second team. If Glennon is going to have any chance at surpassing McCown, he’ll have to thoroughly outplay him in training camp and the preseason. Unless the Bucs draft a quarterback in the first round, this is McCown’s job to lose.

Will the offensive line be better? It probably can’t be worse than last year when the line’s play was a major disappointment. The Bucs blew up that line and they’ve overhauled it with additions like left tackle Andre Collins and center Evan Dietrich-Smith. Still, the biggest question is whether guard Carl Nicks, who missed almost all of last season with an injury, can get back to full strength. If Nicks is totally healthy, he might be the best guard in the game and he makes everyone around him better.

Who starts at wide receiver opposite Vincent Jackson? Let’s be brutally honest. That player isn’t on the roster yet. The Bucs may open minicamp with someone like veteran Louis Murphy running with the first team. But Murphy will be competing for the fourth or fifth receiver spot before all is said and done. This team still needs to add a second and third wide receiver.

Who’s the tight end? The answer to that one may come in plural form. Tim Wright did some nice things as a rookie last season. But Wright is limited as a blocker. That’s why the Bucs brought in Brandon Myers. He can contribute as a blocker and a receiver. The Bucs aren’t likely to use a fullback very often, which means there could be a lot of two-tight-end sets.

Aside from Lavonte David, what’s the situation at linebacker? David is set as the weakside starter, which is the most important linebacker spot in coach Lovie Smith’s defense. Mason Foster is the favorite to remain the starter in the middle, but he needs to show he can drop into coverage much more frequently than he’s done in the past. Jonathan Casillas appears to be the favorite to start on the strong side.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are optimistic that guard Carl Nicks will be ready to take part in the team’s offseason program, which begins in April.

“We certainly hope so,’’ general manager Jason Licht said Monday.

Nicks missed all but two games last season while dealing with a toe injury and a bout with MRSA.

“He’s moving along pretty good,’’ Licht said. “So far, we’ve been pleased with his progression. He’s continuing the rehab and we’ll see where that goes.’’

Nicks’ progress might be part of the reason the Bucs traded away center/guard Jeremy Zuttah to Baltimore on Sunday. A healthy Nicks would fill one guard position.

At the moment, Jamon Meredith and Oniel Cousins would be the top candidates to start at the other guard position. But Licht said it remains possible the Bucs could draft a guard.

“I think that’s going to be an open competition,’’ Licht said. “I think we’re going to go with who the best player is.’’
ORLANDO, Fla. – The Tampa Bay Buccaneers sent out a strong signal that they expect guard Carl Nicks to be healthy for the upcoming season.

The team traded away center/guard Jeremy Zuttah to Baltimore for a 2015 mid-round draft pick on Sunday, a day before the NFL owners meetings begin.

Nicks missed all but two games of last season after dealing with a toe injury and a MRSA infection. Zuttah spent last year playing center, but also has experience at guard. The Bucs previously addressed their center position by signing free agent Evan Dietrich-Smith. The fact the Bucs were willing to trade Zuttah shows they’re confident Nicks will be back for the 2014 season.

The Bucs are looking at Nicks as one of their starting guards. Jamon Meredith and Oniel Cousins are the candidates for the other starting guard spot. But the Bucs still could make a move for a guard in free agency or the draft.

Projecting a lineup: Offense

March, 21, 2014
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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been one of the league's busiest teams in free agency. That means the roster will have a new look.

Factoring in the new additions, let's take a look at what the starting lineup currently looks like starting with the offense:

McCown
Quarterback: Coach Lovie Smith has made it pretty clear that veteran Josh McCown is his starter. McCown would have to have a horrible preseason and Mike Glennon would have to light it up to have a shot at starting.

Running back: Doug Martin is the main guy here, but Smith has said he wants to spread carries around. That means Mike James and Bobby Rainey will be getting playing time.

Wide receiver: Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams are the incumbent starters, but there's not much behind them. That's why this is a position where the Bucs are still going to make moves.

Tight end: The Bucs signed Brandon Myers as a free agent and he's the early favorite to win the starting job. Tim Wright did some nice things as a rookie last year, but he's not much of a blocker.

Collins
Offensive tackles: The Bucs have made it clear that free-agent pickup Anthony Collins is their starting left tackle. That means Demar Dotson will stay at right tackle.

Offensive guards: Assuming Carl Nicks is healthy, he's the starter at one guard position. But the other spot is wide open. Jeremy Zuttah, Jamon Meredith and Oniel Cousins could be candidates for the starting job, but the Bucs might not be done at this position.

Center: The Bucs signed free-agent Evan Dietrich Smith from Green Bay and his arrival pushes Zuttah to guard.

Bucs begin O-line overhaul

March, 8, 2014
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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made one major move on their offensive line Saturday afternoon and they might not be finished.

In a move that came as no surprise, the Bucs reportedly have released veteran guard Davin Joseph. The move instantly freed up $6 million in salary-cap space. The Bucs now will have more than $24 million in cap space as they head into free agency.

Joseph, a two-time Pro Bowler, had been with the Bucs since 2006. But Joseph became expendable after not playing up to his previous level last season. That might have been due to a knee injury that forced him to miss the entire 2012 season.

Joseph’s release might only be the first of significant moves on Tampa Bay’s offensive line. Left tackle Donald Penn (a cap figure of more than $8 million) and center Jeremy Zuttah (a cap figure of more than $4 million) also could be candidates for release or contract restructures.

The future of guard Carl Nicks is uncertain. He missed all but two games last season while dealing with a toe injury and a staph infection. Tampa Bay’s offensive line was supposed to be a strength in 2013. Instead, the offensive line underachieved.

That’s why the Bucs released Joseph and that’s why there could be more moves on the horizon. Tampa Bay could look to free agency and the draft to make several moves on the offensive line.
TAMPA, Fla. -- There is some promising news out of the Buccaneers.

Guard Carl Nicks, who played in only two games last season, is making progress toward a return. Nicks was plagued by an injured toe and a bout with a MRSA infection.

“I’ve had a chance to talk with Carl and I’ll just say that he’s excited about the coming season and his rehab is going well,’’ coach Lovie Smith said. “Carl is one of the guys who has been through here daily, getting ready to go. He’s been a dominant football player for a while and we have to get him back out on the football field, and that’s what we’re trying to do.’’

The fact that Nicks is rehabbing is an excellent sign because there had been rumblings that his career might be over. Getting a healthy Nicks back would be a big boost to an offensive line that struggled last season.
TAMPA, Fla. – The Buccaneers took a big step toward completing their coaching staff Saturday afternoon when they announced George Warhop will coach the offensive line.

Warhop has been an offensive line coach in the NFL since 1996, working for the Rams, Cardinals, Cowboys and 49ers. Warhop spent the past five seasons with Cleveland.

Warhop takes over a unit that underperformed much of last season and may go through some changes this offseason. There is uncertainty about the health of guard Carl Nicks, and tackle Donald Penn and guard Davin Joseph are getting older and carrying big salary-cap numbers.
TAMPA, Fla. -- New Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith comes from a defensive background. But Smith and the new general manager are going to have to spend the majority of their offseason building the offense.

With the exception of adding a pass-rusher, I don’t see a lot of big needs on defense. I look at the offense, however, and see needs just about everywhere.

Glennon
There are only three or four sure things on offense. Doug Martin is set at running back, and Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams are set as the wide receivers, although the Bucs would be wise to add some depth at receiver. You might be able to include guard Carl Nicks on this list, but only if he’s fully recovered from a bout with MRSA and a toe injury that kept him out most of last season.

Aside from those three or four spots, nothing is a given. Smith had some praise for quarterback Mike Glennon at his introductory news conference. But Smith stopped well short of saying Glennon will be his starting quarterback.

I liked some of what I saw out of Glennon in his rookie season, and think he could be good with a strong supporting cast. But, at this point, I think the Bucs should at least bring in someone to compete with Glennon.

Speaking of competition, the Bucs need to add some at tight end. They might have stumbled onto something with Tim Wright, but they still need a blocking tight end.

Speaking of blocking, I don’t know that any spot is safe on the offensive line. That unit did not play well last season, and several offensive linemen are carrying large salary-cap figures.

The bottom line is that Tampa Bay’s offense is going to look a lot different than last season, when Williams and Martin missed most of the season with injuries. That won’t be a bad thing.

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