Originally posted on Fox Sports Florida  |  Last updated 8/7/12
TAMPA, Fla. If the Tampa Bay Bucs are going to put up a good front this season, Carl Nicks is just the man to help them do it. The All-Pro left offensive guard, regarded as one of the leagues best with the New Orleans Saints, has the goods to take a solid Bucs offensive line to the next level. The 6-5, 343-pounder was a key element in the Saints ability to pass protect for Drew Brees and open holes for the ground game, and he has a Super Bowl ring to show for his efforts. Thats why Bucs GM Mark Dominik moved to quickly to sign the fifth-year star out of Nebraska when the free agency window opened in March, paying a bundle at 47 million over five years. But the investment will be well worth it if the burly 27-year-old lives up to expectations: protecting their greatest asset, franchise quarterback Josh Freeman, improving the passing game and giving top Tampa Bay tailbacks Doug Martin and LeGarrette Blount more room to run. The Bucs ranked 30th in rushing out of 32 teams last year, and were the leagues 16th-rated passing team during the 4-12 debacle of 2011. But from what Nicks has seen so far in camp, the offensive line has the talent to become a dominant unit. Absolutely, he said. It all starts up front with the line. Were going to be the leaders of this team I believe. And were going to win and lose games off our backs. Thats how I take it and how our whole offensive line has got to take it. Nicks joins a line that already features Pro Bowl right guard Davin Joseph, entering the second season of a seven-year deal paying him 52.5 million. Left tackle Donald Penn, another Pro Bowler, is only in the third year of a six-year, 48-million contract. Penn is currently sidelined with a calf injury that could limit him in camp. But the Bucs also boast a tough veteran right tackle in 6-foot-8, 320-pound lineman Jeremy Trueblood. Jeremy Zuttah, who played under Bucs head coach Greg Schiano at Rutgers, replaces departed veteran Jeff Faine, having earned Schianos stamp of approval. And when Penn returns, the line looks formidable indeed with the addition of Nicks to the mix. Hes just going to make our line solid from left to right, Joseph said. We had a very good line last year, but his level of play, of course, is All-Pro status. So hes going to make Donald Penn a lot better, hes going to make Jeremy Zuttah a lot better, hes going to make me a lot better. Nicks recognizes the offense, and team in general, will look to him for leadership, and he hopes to contribute in that role any way he can, whether its a couple of words here and there or by showing fellow players by example: If 350 can run that way, I should be able to run like that. I just try to do whatever I feel is necessary. Im kind of looked at as the veteran, and this is barely my fifth year, he added. So its kind of a different role for me. Were a young team with a lot of talent. We just have to come together, and our attention to detail has to be second to none. And our game preparation has to be the best. Thats the approach the detail-oriented Schiano is known for, and Nicks embraces it fully. He also likes the offensive philosophy that his new head coach espouses, placing a heavy emphasis on the running game to set up the pass. He comes from a Saints offense famous for its pass-happy attack of one of the games best quarterbacks, Drew Brees. But Nicks thrives of getting physical in the ground game as well. The first thing is it gets the defensive line tired, he said. You can wear them down and that helps your pass protection. Another thing is knocking the guy down and just seeing the tiredness and hurt in his eyes. You just thrive off that. If I can maul somebody on every play, thats what Im going to do. And in pass protection, theyre going to be tired, and Im just going to maul you. Im excited. The Saints excelled at both phases of the offense, ranking first in total offense last year (467 yards per game), first in passing (334) and sixth in rushing (133). Suffice it say, Nicks is equally comfortable and adept in all facets of his position. Some people might have called the Saints a passing team, but at the end of the day they had to run the ball, he said. So its going to be physical no matter where youre at. Nicks was a pillar of the Big Three free agent additions, signed in a flurry along with standout San Diego wide receiver Vincent Jackson (five years, 55 million) and Lions cornerback Eric Wright (five years, 37.5 million). Thats another source of excitement for Nicks: seeing the commitment from the front office to winning now, not simply building for the future. Its not a rebuilding year, he said. Were trying to win. Were trying to shock some teams, kind of like Detroit did after few years of not doing so well. And now San Francisco has shocked the world. Were trying to do something like that, bring in veteran guys, skill guys and Pro Bowlers. Its going to be fun to see what we do out there.
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