TAMPA — Carl Nicks says he has pain and nerve damage in his left foot, something the Bucs guard believes he may have to live with for the rest of the life.
After signing a five-year, $47.5 million contract two years ago, Nicks has only played in nine games. Foot surgery, followed by another operation due to a recurrence of MRSA, has left him unable to participate in the team's first minicamp this week under coach Lovie Smith.
Now he suffers from a new malady — he can't stop itching to play.
"I got the chicken pox when it comes to that," Nicks said. "I've been scratching a long time. Now I'm itching (to play). I don't want to force it, I don't want to rush it. When I come back, I want to play a lot more than two games."
Nicks, 28, says he has been limited to light jogging and typical rehab drills. He said his goal is to be ready for the start of training camp this summer. And Nicks admitted he may never be 100 percent.
"Lovie told me the other day my 80 percent is still pretty good," Nicks said. "If I'm not 100 percent, hopefully I can hit 99 percent, or 99.9. I'd be happy with that.
"I don't know about percentage. I've never been that guy. But obviously, I'm not ready to practice right now. But I feel comfortable saying I'll be back for training camp. That's the plan. Me personally I think I can, so we'll see."
After practice Tuesday, in which Nicks took mental reps, Smith warned of the long road ahead but said a return by training camp is realistic.
"I think it's definitely a realistic goal," Smith said. "We'd like to think that until somebody tells me otherwise. He's been good. He has a ways to go, but it's good for Carl to get back into the mix with the rest of the group. Early on there's a lot of mental work for all of our players."
Nicks says he still has trouble with pushing off on his left foot and has a good deal of pain due to nerve damage. He says it's not clear which surgery caused the nerve problems.
"My big thing is range of motion and flexibility and being able to push off it," Nicks said. "I can still squat and lunge, do all those things. It's just the quick stuff, the power cleans, the quick agility stuff, pushing off and getting banged back. Those kinds of things I still struggle with.
"There's some nerve damage, so there's going to be pain, from what I'm told, for the rest of my life."
Because of the uncertainty of Nicks' health, the Bucs will have to address their offensive line in the draft. Nicks' $7 million salary for 2014 is guaranteed and he counts more than $9 million against the salary cap, so the team has to give him every chance to recover.
In the meantime, the Bucs are using Oniel Cousins, Patrick Omameh, Jason Foster and Jamon Meredith at guard during minicamp. At No. 7 overall, the Bucs could decide to take a tackle, such as Texas A&M's Jake Matthews or Notre Dame's Zack Martin and move him to guard for a season or two.
"The main thing is the mental reps," Nicks said. "I know how to play football, I know how to block, how to pass block. I just don't know the plays.
"The true answer is when I actually get out there and play. Then you guys can tell how rusty I look or how good I'm doing."