Even with center Jeff Faine practicing Thursday and tackle Jeremy Trueblood on the mend, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers may stick with the same offensive line combination for a third straight game.
Faine, who has missed four games with a quad injury, could be ready to go Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. But concerns about his conditioning may prompt the Bucs to start Jeremy Zuttah at center for the fifth consecutive week. Trueblood missed the past two games with a knee injury and was limited in practice Thursday. James Lee started the past two games at right tackle.
The biggest concern with Faine might be his conditioning since he has not played in a month. If Faine does play, Zuttah could move to left guard. But the Bucs have been pleased with the play of former Palm Harbor University High School and North Carolina State guard Ted Larsen.
"The thing with Faine that you're a little more worried about than Trueblood is that he's been out for a longer amount of time and football shape and all those things you have to be concerned with, which maybe makes you lean towards not rather than to (play) to get him back in football shape,'' coach Raheem Morris said. "As we know, they will both have on helmets if you need them both. How you practice this week is definitely a key element as to who is going to be out there and who is going to go for you.''
It sounds as if Morris might have Faine active for insurance reasons but stick with Zuttah a center and Larsen at guard Sunday.
"It's a battle, you'd have to say, because Larsen has played so well,'' Morris said. "If Faine comes back in, Zuttah has played really well at center. It's going to be a battle for Faine. After awhile, those two guys are competing and doing a pretty good job. Faine is one of our leaders and one of our captains. He's got to go out there and play better than them right now and he's got to get out there when he can.
"Zuttah can easily move to left guard. We've seen him do it all last year and he'll have no choice but to be better than he was last year just based on experience and what he's been able to do the last two weeks. We look forward to the competition. It's a really good problem that you have two guys that can go out there and let your offense function at center and also at guard and to have that depth we have there is a good thing.''
LB Quincy Black (ankle), FB Earnest Graham (hamstring), DE Kyle Moore (shoulder) and DT Ryan Sims (knee) did not practice. WR Sammie Stroughter (knee) and Trueblood was limited Thursday. Faine (quad) and TE Kellen Winslow (knee) had full participation.