Nicks ready for potential of new-look Bucs
TAMPA, Fla. — Barely six months ago, the idea of anyone on the New Orleans Saints willingly jumping to the sinking ship of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would have been laughable.
After all, the Saints had just marched to another NFC South title with a 13-3 record, while the Bucs were busy falling apart at the seams with a division-worst record of 4-12 capped by a tumultuous 10-game losing streak to end the season.
But in late January, the Bucs launched a thorough rebuilding program with the hiring of Rutgers University head coach Greg Schiano. And in early March, the Saints were the ones who became the NFL’s team in turmoil — suddenly reeling amid revelations of the bounty scandal that resulted in the one-year suspension of Super Bowl champion head coach Sean Payton, among others.
Factor in the ongoing contract standoff with franchise quarterback Drew Brees, the man most responsible for the team’s success, and the Saints look like they could be heading for a season of chaos.
No wonder Tampa Bay’s new left offensive guard Carl Nicks is smiling these days. The All-Pro lineman, with a reputation as one of the game’s best pass-blockers, has traded the gold and black of troubled New Orleans for the pewter and red of a young but promising Bucs team, landing a whopping $47.5 million over five seasons in mid-March to make the intradivision switch.
So far, he’s been pleased with the progress under Tampa Bay’s first-year head coach and his new staff.
“It’s coming,” he said this week after an offseason workout at One Buc Place. “Anytime you start a whole new offense with a whole new group of guys, it’s going to take a while. But progressively, day-to-day, we’re getting better.”
Paired with Pro Bowl right guard Davin Joseph, the 6-foot-5, 343-pounder in his fifth NFL season undoubtedly will provide a boost to the Bucs running game as well as adding another layer of protection for quarterback Josh Freeman. Nicks knows that Schiano’s philosophy on offense centers around a run-first attack to set up the passing game, a far different style than the pass-happy offense of the Saints.
That will provide Nicks with plenty of opportunities to make his presence felt clearing openings for veteran LeGarrette Blount and first-round draft pick Doug Martin this season, with help from seventh-round pick Michael Smith. And Nicks fully embraces the power and speed running game the Bucs suddenly possess.
“Absolutely,” he said. “We have the personnel, we’ve got the beef and we’ve got the running backs for sure.”
His impressions so far of the ballcarriers? “They’re talented, and they all bring something different,” he said. “Blount, he’s going to run you over, and he may hurdle you. And he’s big. The rookies, they’re all fast, hungry and they all work really hard, so that’s really good.”
Nicks says he generally keeps his distance from rookies in camp, so he hasn’t given Martin any advice in particular. “I try to stay away from them until cuts are made,” he said. “I don’t want to get too close and then they leave or go to another team, so I just pretty much stay away from the rookies and let them do their thing. But he works really hard. He works like he’s a free-agent guy, and that’s a good thing. He had Blount stepping his game up, and that’s good."
So is the fact that Nicks brings an important veteran presence to the unit along with the other major free-agent addition: wide receiver Vincent Jackson from San Diego.
Drafted out of Nebraska in 2008, Nicks has started 48 straight games dating back to 2009, and he started in 13 of his 16 games as a rookie in 2008. He was named to the Pro Bowl in both 2010 and 2011, also earning the distinction of first-team All-Pro in 2011. And he was a key member of the Saints’ XLIV Super Bowl championship team after the 2009 season.
He’s looking forward to playing on a line that features Joseph, tackles Jeremy Trueblood and Donald Penn, and center Jeremy Zuttah.
“I think since we’re all veterans, it will really help,” he said. “We all know the lingo, even though it’s not their lingo. We can adjust and play the game, so we’ll be all right.”
That process is still in the early stages, but Nicks likes what he’s seen.
“We haven’t had any pads on, so you can’t really jell together like you want and get physical against the defense for real, but on paper, we’re legit,” he said. “It has to translate. And I think it will. As soon as the pads go on, you’ll be able to tell.”
Nicks already can tell one thing: The prospects for his new team look considerably more stable and encouraging right now than the one he left behind.
RING OF HONOR: The Bucs announced Wednesday that they will induct former offensive tackle Paul Gruber into the club’s Ring of Honor. The ceremony will take place during halftime of the Oct. 14 home game against Kansas City.
He’s the fourth member of the Bucs to be recognized in the Ring, joining Hall of Fame defensive end Lee Roy Selmon, head coach John McKay and tight end Jimmie Giles.
Gruber spent his entire 12-year career with the Bucs, starting in all 183 games he played.
He ranks fourth on the Bucs in games played and third in games started and earned such honors as first-team All-Pro and two-time team MVP along the way.
QUOTABLE: Schiano was asked this week if he was disappointed by anything he’s seen so far in the OTAs, with players taking the lessons from the classroom to the practice field.
“Not disappointed,” he said. “As a coach, you always have this vision of what you want it to look like. Very rarely does it ever look like that. Every once in a while you get a game and you say, 'Wow, we were actually pretty good today.' But usually it doesn’t meet your expectations, but that’s good. You set the bar high, and that’s what keeps you working and coming back for more. But I do know this; the guys are giving great effort.
"They are really focused and trying to do what we ask them to do. As long as we continue to do that, we’re going to get better. Like we’ve said all along, time is our enemy. We’ve got to get better faster. That’s kind of the key right now.”