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After injuries, Tampa Bay Buccaneers center Jeff Faine plans return

Bucs center Jeff Faine, who turns 30 in April, has missed 12 of the past 32 games because of muscle injuries.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Bucs center Jeff Faine, who turns 30 in April, has missed 12 of the past 32 games because of muscle injuries.

TAMPA — C Jeff Faine has assurances he will be on the Bucs' roster next season. Staying on the field is another matter.

Faine, who turns 30 on April 6, has missed 12 of the past 32 games. In 2009, he missed four games with a triceps tear. In 2010, a quadriceps injury shut him down for four games at midseason, and he missed the final month after another triceps tear. None of those injuries required surgery.

"Obviously, the last two years has been a little unfortunate," Faine said. "I'm just trying to analyze what I can do differently, what I can do better, whether it's massage or active release therapy (soft-tissue therapy massage techniques). But I'm exhausting all options to see what I can do.

"I think it might be a little bit of training. Also, I'm not a big partier. It wasn't like I was tearing down my body. … It might just be a matter of taking extra care of my body during the week. We're looking into that. I'm going to figure out how to keep my body in peak shape. Usually I work out pretty hard and stay in pretty good shape. That's not the issue. It might be a combination of a little more rest and a little more alternative maintenance."

Faine is a team captain and the Bucs' union representative. On the youngest roster in the NFL, he will soon join the endangered list of 30-something players on the back nine of their career.

What's more, Faine is scheduled to earn $4.575 million next season after earning $5 million in 2010 while playing in half the games.

In the past, the Bucs have parted with players such as Faine. After going 5-3 with Jeremy Zuttah at center, they might be expected to do it again.

Zuttah, who turns 25 on June 1, is younger and certainly cheaper. He will earn $555,000 in 2011, and offensive coordinator Greg Olson has said center is probably a better position for him than guard.

But the Bucs really aren't deep on the offensive line, and nobody has doubted Faine's production when healthy.

G Davin Joseph is an unrestricted free agent, and though he remains a priority to be re-signed, there's no guarantee that will happen. Tampa Bay also could lose RT Jeremy Trueblood, who lost his starting job due to a knee sprain sustained against the Rams in October but never wrestled it back from James Lee. Trueblood is an unrestricted free agent, and the Bucs might not attempt to re-sign him.

Rookies Ted Larsen and Derek Hardman played well at guard when pressed into service, and the Bucs still are eager to see what they have in G Brandon Carter and T Will Barker.

But protecting QB Josh Freeman will continue to be a priority. That's why for the time being, Faine has every expectation of reclaiming his job next season.

WILL CADDY ROLL AGAIN?: The Bucs haven't had a more inspirational player recently than RB Cadillac Williams — or a more reliable one.

Williams sustained devastating knee injuries in 2007 and 2008. But in the past two seasons, he played in each of the Bucs' 32 games, starting 15 in '09 and half of the games last year before losing his job to rookie RB LeGarrette Blount.

Clearly, Blount, who led all rookies with 1,007 yards rushing, will carry the mail for the Bucs next season. Williams, meanwhile, is an unrestricted free agent.

But Williams has morphed into one of the NFL's top third-down backs. He had a career-high 46 catches for 355 yards and the winning touchdown against the Rams last year.

Perhaps more important, there might not be a better pass protector against the blitz at running back than Williams.

Not only does he grade at nearly 100 percent on assignments, but his technique is as sound as any running back in the NFL.

It's hard to predict what kind of market Williams will find as a free agent given his reduced role with the Bucs and injury history. But there's no question Tampa Bay would like to have him back in 2011.

After injuries, Tampa Bay Buccaneers center Jeff Faine plans return 02/19/11 [Last modified: Saturday, February 19, 2011 9:13pm]

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