TAMPA — Bucs guard Carl Nicks spent the past four seasons with the Saints and probably could fill a parade float with insider information about them. Blocking schemes, audibles, hand signals — he could blow the horn on all that jazz.
But as his new team prepares to play the Saints and quarterback Drew Brees on Sunday, Nicks has decided to be as silent as a Bourbon Street mime.
"I'm a firm believer in playing fair and being honest and the code," Nicks said Wednesday.
"It's cheating, and I'm not about that. I know they're not about that. I want to be able to sit there and say, 'We beat you guys fair and square.' "
Perhaps Nicks' sense of fair play is the reason he says he was unaware of the Saints' bounty program that took place under former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
The scandal resulted in the stiffest penalties in NFL history. Williams, now Rams defensive coordinator, was suspended indefinitely, Saints coach Sean Payton for a year, general manager Mickey Loomis for eight games and linebackers and interim coach Joe Vitt for eight games. The team also was stripped of two second-round picks and fined $500,000.
Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma has been suspended for the season, Saints defensive end Will Smith for four games, free agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove for seven and Browns linebacker Scott Fujita for one. They can play while appeals are heard.
"I was disappointed for all the suspensions and allegations because I don't know if there is any actual evidence," Nicks said. "I've never seen any of that stuff."
The result has been more wreckage for a franchise that helped the city of New Orleans recover from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Under offensive line coach Aaron Kromer, coaching until Vitt returns next week, the Saints started 0-4 before beating San Diego 31-24 on Oct. 7.
Meanwhile, the 6-foot-5, 349-pound Nicks has been an enormous addition to the Bucs. The two-time All-Pro filled the leadership void created by the loss of guard Davin Joseph to a season-ending knee injury.
"That dude, he's a game-changer," defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. "He's so unique how he plays. He has a dangerous punch. Then you think you can go around him, and his feet move like a running back's. It's like, 'Come on, what is your weakness?' "
Nicks, playing despite a right toe injury that has limited his ability to practice, previously circled games against the Saints on the calendar.
"I'm just excited to play my old team and stick it to them a little bit," he said.
The Saints have nothing but admiration and affection for Nicks, who figured he played his last game for New Orleans after a loss to the 49ers in the NFC division playoff game. Nicks signed a five-year, $37.5 million contract in March.
Nicks was a huge part of the Saints' success. He won a Super Bowl with them in February 2010 and last season picked up Brees when he broke Dan Marino's NFL record for passing yards in a season.
"(Those moments) are frozen in time," Brees said. "So you appreciate it. But you also understand life goes on, careers go on and he got a great opportunity to go elsewhere. And unfortunately, it was in our division."
The Bucs had a season-best 145 rushing yards Sunday against the Chiefs. A ground game will be paramount in limiting possessions of the Saints' high-powered offense.
"I think (Nicks has) made an enormous impact on our offense," Bucs offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan said. "There's a toughness, a dominance. Some of the things he does, it doesn't go noticed, maybe, by the casual observer.
"I think he's excited about this one, and I can imagine it's got to be a little awkward for him. In the one sense, those are very close friends and nothing can tear away the bond and the relationship he has winning the Super Bowl. But you also want to show, hey, this is what we're about now."