Tampa Bay Buccaneers center Jeff Faine expects to return Sunday against Carolina Panthers

Center Jeff Faine has been out for a month with an injured left triceps. The Bucs have lost four straight in his absence.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Center Jeff Faine has been out for a month with an injured left triceps. The Bucs have lost four straight in his absence.

TAMPA — Finally, some good news for the 0-5 Bucs.

C Jeff Faine says he believes he will return to the lineup Sunday against the Panthers.

Faine has missed a month recovering from a left triceps injury suffered four weeks ago.

Ultimately, the decision rests with the Bucs medical staff, which did not clear him to play against the Eagles.

"I'm not 100 percent, but I think I'm good enough to go and contribute to this team and help us get a win," Faine said. "I was really wanting to go back last week, and it was against my doctor's wishes, so I respect that. I'm just ready to go this week."

Since Faine's injury, the Bucs slipped from fourth to 26th in the NFL in rushing with an average of 94.6 yards per game. In the opener against Dallas with Faine in the lineup, Tampa Bay rolled up 174 yards on 31 carries.

"Not that (Sean) Mahan didn't do a good job, but he's Jeff Faine," coach Raheem Morris said. "He's a significant upgrade as far as the center position. We look at him as a leader. We look at him as one of our captains. The running game becomes a lot better. You're talking about maintaining, holding blocks. The demeanor of that unit, of that room, when he's in there, he's on them and he's telling them what he wants to do and how he wants it done, and all that stuff changes with Jeff Faine out there."

Faine said it has been difficult to watch the offense struggle in his absence.

"It's pretty frustrating," he said. "You're kind of handcuffed. You're not able to contribute the way you'd want to."

Faine said much of the strength has returned to his left arm. "It's good weight-room strength. I've been lifting pretty hard. I haven't hit anybody in a couple weeks, so Wednesday (at practice) will be a good test."

No change at QB: Morris said Josh Johnson will remain the starting quarterback while first-round pick Josh Freeman waits his turn.

"This is Josh's football team right now — Johnson," Morris said. "You'll see Josh Johnson. Freeman's got to take advantage of the opportunity whenever it comes and when it comes. Right now we're giving the ball to Josh Johnson and letting him go out there and play football."

Johnson completed 26 of 50 attempts for 240 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions while facing relentless blitzing in Sunday's loss at Philadelphia. He rushed five times for 40 yards. Morris said Johnson "made strides" from his first start Oct. 4 against Washington.

"He played hard, he played fast and he played fearless, sometimes a little too fearless," Morris said.

Help for the D-line: The Bucs continued their search for a way to improve their pass rush by signing former Seahawks DL Michael Bennett. To make room, the team released OL Marc Dile. Bennett joined the Seahawks as an undrafted free agent this year and had an impressive preseason, recording two sacks, nine tackles, five tackles for loss, five quarterback hurries and one fumble recovery. He was released Sunday.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers center Jeff Faine expects to return Sunday against Carolina Panthers 10/12/09 [Last modified: Monday, October 12, 2009 11:23pm]

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