Bucs shuffle offensive line after losing Joseph

In the blink of an eye, arguably the best line the Tampa Bay

Bucs ever assembled on offense became a broken line late last week.

Now, with the regular season only two weeks away, the Bucs have to find a way

to carry on without Pro Bowl right guard and offensive line leader Davin

Joseph.

But that’s life in the NFL. Joseph was lost for the season Friday night on a

routine play away from the action, suffering a torn right patellar tendon — an

injury that nearly everyone knew spelled the end of Joseph’s year well before coach

Greg Schiano confirmed the news over the weekend.

The impact of the injury far outshadows the surprisingly sharp performance by

Schiano’s Bucs against the top-tier New England Patriots. Beating the Pats 30-28

certainly put a little pep in their step, especially when you consider New

England throttled the Bucs 31-14 in the third preseason game last season.

But losing Joseph will make it harder for the O-line to take the step forward

everyone expected with the addition of All-Pro left guard Carl Nicks. Schiano

has several obvious options to fill the void left by Joseph, who not only is a

force on the field but a thoughtful individual whose postgame insights will be

missed.  

The first: Keep Ted Larsen, who subbed in for Joseph Friday night, at the

position. Second: Move Larsen to center and swap Jeremy Zuttah back to his

familiar spot on the line at guard. Third: give others on the depth chart a

shot.

“There’s definitely sixth-man, seventh-man, eighth-man mentality,” Schiano

said. “We’re going to try to work a couple of things. Right now, I’m not sure.

Obviously Larsen has worked there, (but) we have other options that we can look

at which we will.

“You can kind of figure those of on your own. Any of those

guys in the top eight, we’re trying to get the best five on the field.”

Might the Bucs look outside the organization for reinforcements?

“I think we have the answer internally already,” Schiano said. “That’s why

we’ve been trying to build depth at all the positions. But we always look

outside. That’s a constant. If there’s somebody we think fits our mold, then

we’ll try to do what we can to get him.”

The injury occurred when tackle Donald Penn inadvertently blocked a Patriots

player into the back of Joseph, injuring his knee. “It’s one of those wrong

place, wrong time things,” Schiano said.

It comes at a time the offense seems to be getting its act together, with

improved passing by Josh Freeman, some nice work by the Vincent Jackson-led receiving

corps and impressive running by rookie tailback Doug Martin, who is tightening

is grip on the starting job over LeGarrette Blount.

“It’s big,” Schiano said of losing Joseph. “But you know that’s part of what we

do. You mourn and you move on. That’s what you do. That’s what we have to do.

Davin wants us to do that. He’s going to get surgery and start on his road to

recovery, and we have to fix our sights on how we’re going to move forward.”

But Schiano stressed that teams always have to cope with injuries, like the one

the Bucs sustained during offseason training when second-year defensive end

Da’Quan Bowers was lost for the season with a torn Achilles tendon.

“It’s part of the deal,” he said. “How many people remember that Da’Quan Bowers

isn’t playing with us right now? Nobody, right? That’s the point. Everything

moves on and then, when they get healthy, they come back.

“But nobody cares. Your opponent doesn’t care. … That’s part of the game.

Nobody is like, ‘We’re going to let them have some slack now.’ It’s next man

up, let’s get him up and figure out who ‘next’ is. And some of that has to be

competed for I think. I don’t think it’s a knockdown slam dunk who it is. So

there will be some discussion and then we’ll go.”

Schiano plans to make the decision quickly to give the unit time to work

together before opening Sept. 9 against Carolina.

“I don’t know if ever things are totally decided, but we better have a solid

unit on opening day, that’s for sure,” Schiano said. “So we’ll make sure we lock

in so they have time to prepare, whoever it is.”

Deciding who takes over for Joseph isn’t the only issue on the line. Incumbent

Jeremy Trueblood and fourth-year backup Demar Dotson are battling it out at

right tackle with the outcome still up in the air.

“We’re going to mess around with a few things and then quickly come to a

pecking order,” Schiano said. “It may be one of those deals like Dot and Blood

are doing right now, where they’re taking turns. Maybe two guys getting shots

at it.”

While Schiano and his coaching staff sort it out, they won’t have to worry

about replacing two other players hurt against New England. Defensive tackle

Gerald McCoy (leg) and defensive end Adrian Clayborn (elbow) are sore but fine.

Meanwhile, another question heading into camp continues to become clearer: The

starting ball-carrier role is tilting to first-round pick Martin, who has

looked good in camp and his exhibition contests, especially this past week in

his first start, when he gained 53 yards on 13 carries, with a darting scamper

of 19 yards and a 1-yard TD plunge.

Schiano has been impressed with what he’s seen from the former Boise State

star.

“That’s why he moved in and started the game, because he had shown me that

much,” Schiano said. “I don’t think he did anything (Friday) night that would

say, ‘Oh, that wasn’t a good move.’ I though he ran the ball well and did some

things well. Right now he just has to continue on that course, he’s learning

every day and he’s a very open-minded guy. He wants to learn.”

Now, the only question will be which blockers he’ll be following on the right

side.