TAMPA — The Bucs believe they have contained the outbreak of MRSA that has kept Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks out of action, but doubts about the readiness of their offensive line have spread.
Coach Greg Schiano said Monday it was "too early to tell" whether Nicks will be available for the regular-season opener against the Jets at MetLife Stadium. That means the Bucs may have to pick from Gabe Carimi, Jamon Meredith and Ted Larsen to fill Nicks' spot though none of them would list guard as their primary position.
Carimi, who was acquired in a trade with the Bears in June, took reps at left guard with the first team during the install period of practice Monday.
"Well, we have guys on our roster on the offensive line, we'll choose one of them," Schiano said. "They all can play guard. One of them will end up being the starting guard if Carl can't play."
The Bucs have not explored the option that worked best when Nicks went down with a season-ending injury to his plantar plate: moving center Jeremy Zuttah from center to left guard and starting Larsen at center.
"It's always an option because we've done it," Schiano said. "I wouldn't say that's the way we're going to go or it's not the way we're going to go. We just have to get the best five on the field. We'll evaluate that when we know definitely about Carl."
Playing behind the starting offensive line, quarterback Josh Freeman was sacked nine times. Granted, not all of those sacks can be laid at the cleats of the offensive linemen since tight ends and running backs were part of the failed protection.
Joseph was limited to a couple of series in the third preseason game at Miami. He rejoins Zuttah, left tackle Donald Penn and right tackle Demar Dotson on a unit that was responsible for the league's 15th-ranked rushing offense last season. Doug Martin led all rookies with 1,454 yards rushing and Freeman passed for a club-record 4,065 yards and 27 touchdowns.
Despite a lackluster preseason, Schiano says he's confident the line will play well this season.
"I feel very strongly about Davin," Schiano said. "I think Davin is going to come out and play Davin-like. I feel uncertain about Nicks, because that's what it is, it's uncertain. And then the rest of the guys, I feel confident they're going to play well, the guys that have practiced all camp, they're going to play well.
"I mean, there were issues (in the preseason). But that could be said for every O-line over the course of the season some weeks. Overall, I'm confident. I just wish there was more certainty at the left guard, but everybody has got their issues and that's ours."