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Return of Nicks, Joseph gives lift to Bucs

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TAMPA, Fla. (AP)

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are counting on the return of guards Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph to bolster their offensive line.

Nicks, who was an All-Pro in 2011, missed the final nine games of 2012 with a toe injury.

Joseph, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, missed the entire season after having surgery on his left knee.

Although the Bucs are being cautious this summer, both players are expected to be in the lineup for the season opener against the New York Jets on Sept. 8.

The 6-foot-5, 349-pound Nicks, who last played on Oct. 25, might see limited playing time at New England on Friday night.

''I think I'm going to play this week,'' he said Monday. ''I've got to get some live action on the toe.''

The pain persists on the underside of his left foot, and Nicks does not expect it to go away anytime soon.

''I might have to deal with it my whole life. So it is what it is, but I have all the confidence in the world that I'll be playing,'' he said.

''I'd lie if I'd tell you it didn't affect me at all, but it affects the way I walk, the way I stand around right now. I've got to stand a certain way; it's just something I've got to deal with.''

Joseph will not travel with the team on its four-day trip to New England.

''Right now strengthening is the biggest thing with Davin,'' Bucs coach Greg Schiano said. ''Carl's going to come and if everything goes well, Carl should take some plays Friday night. We'll see if that comes off or not, depending on how he feels after practice.''

Nicks is hopeful of making it all the way back to the form that made him an All-Pro with the New Orleans Saints in 2011, but he admits he has a long way to go.

''I think with the rehab program I've got, and the way they're letting me rest, work, rest, work, I think it'll be fine,'' he said. ''Maybe I'll just take it easier during the week. I'll still practice, but probably not every play.''

Even with the limited availability of its two best guards, Tampa Bay's offense ranked ninth in the NFL last season, averaging 364 yards.

Rookie running back Doug Martin finished fifth in the league in yards rushing (1,454) and third in total yards from scrimmage (1,926).

The three-game stretch before Nicks went out with his injury was the first time in franchise history when the Bucs gained 400 yards in three straight games. They averaged 464 yards and 34 points in consecutive games against Kansas City, New Orleans and Minnesota.

Those offensive numbers could be achieved more often if Martin were running behind a pair of Pro Bowl-caliber guards?

''It has to do something, right?'' Joseph said with a smile. ''I've got to add something.''

Nicks agrees.

''It could be very special,'' he said. ''I've got high aspirations and goals for this team, and the offensive line is where it's going to start. I know when me and Davin get back out there, we're going to do a good job.''

Joseph might not play at all in the preseason.

''I understand why we're doing what we're doing,'' he said. ''Football is football. It's not safe and it's a very physical sport. I take the advice of the trainers and the strength-and-conditioning staff about my plan as far as easing back into football and getting used to everything. Right now I feel like we're in the right place. ... I'm pretty confident that we'll be ready whenever it counts.''

NOTES: CB Darrelle Revis participated in a 7-on-7 drill for the first time Monday and will travel to New England, but will not play in the game. ... The Bucs will practice against the Patriots on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. ... DT Gerald McCoy injured his calf in a one-on-one drill Saturday and was limited in practice Monday. ... Joining Joseph among the players who will not make the New England trip are wide receiver Chris Owusu, cornerback Danny Gorrer and kicker Lawrence Tynes. ... Schiano said Eric Page ''is probably the leader right now'' in the punt returner competition.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Tagged: Davin Joseph, Buccaneers, Carl Nicks

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