TAMPA — Although the buzz surrounding the Bucs the past two seasons has been about the arrivals at the airport — from New York, Darrelle Revis; passenger Dashon Goldson from San Francisco; paging Vincent Jackson from San Diego; please pick up the white courtesy phone, Carl Nicks from New Orleans — a homegrown talent might play the biggest role in their success this year.
Davin Joseph was among the last standing in an autograph line after another training camp workout Friday.
While reporters swarmed like moths to a flame around the hot names, Joseph, a two-time Pro Bowl right guard, walked alone to the training facility for another round of treatment before meetings that would go well past dark.
"We look at having a veteran group, a smart group, athletic, tough and with physical guys," Joseph said of the Bucs' offensive line. "So to me, it still continues to be the strength of our team. That alone is motivation coming back and knowing guys expect a lot from me, and I expect a lot from them.
"This training camp, I'm anxious to push guys, anxious to be pushed. We'll have our hard days and sore mornings and all that good stuff, but it's just football. I'm just glad to be playing football again."
Last year at this time, Joseph was having one of the best preseasons of his career and looking forward to becoming half of one of the top guard tandems in the NFL with Nicks, a two-time Pro Bowl player who arrived as a free agent.
But late in the first half of a preseason game Aug. 24, Bucs left tackle Donald Penn lost his leverage against a Patriots player and pushed that player to prevent a hit on quarterback Josh Freeman. But the player went right into Joseph's planted right leg, tearing his patellar tendon.
Penn was visibly upset after the play and had to be calmed by coach Greg Schiano.
"It really hurt," Penn said. "You see your best friend get hurt and hurt very severe, and you're one of the reasons why it happened. I felt awful, very awful."
Joseph will tell you it's just a part of the game, the roulette wheel of severe injuries a player hopes to avoid.
"In this league, there's not much time for pity parties," Joseph said. "I've got to work."
A few weeks later, Nicks, having played with excruciating pain in his left foot, was forced to have surgery to repair a torn plantar plate and was lost for the season.
"You don't replace those two guys," Schiano said. "So if we can get them back healthy — they're right on path to do that — they bring not only really good play, but they're both guys who have played in this league and have been successful. And that always helps when you have those guys in your huddle."
One of several team captains, Joseph said he found it hard to lead from the training room. He did what he could, but his biggest contribution was committing to getting healthy as soon as possible.
"It's just letting the guys know that you're working hard to come back," he said. "Guys have respect for that."
Joseph spent time expanding his charitable work in the community through his foundation. He ran a football camp in his hometown, Hallandale. He went to every baseball game played by 9-year-old son Ali. He was part of an eight-day NFL-USO tour of the Middle East, including visiting troops in Afghanistan.
"It's a blessing in another way," Joseph said. "You've got to turn that negative into a positive some way."
With Joseph and Nicks back, the Bucs' offensive line could take teams behind the woodshed. And perhaps because it's his job again, Joseph already is protecting Freeman.
"We haven't been to the playoffs yet," he said of their four seasons as teammates. "To be a good quarterback, you've got to go to the playoffs. If you want to shut (critics) up, win a Super Bowl. So let's go do it."
Rick Stroud can be reached at [email protected]