TAMPA — Carl Nicks is no Saint.
"If I could maul somebody on every play, that's what I'd do," Nicks said after practice recently.
Everywhere big No. 77 walks in training camp, the whispers begin: Who Dat?
Nicks is arguably one of the best free agent signings in the history of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The 6-foot-5, 343-pound guard is in his prime at 27, having been named All-Pro the past two seasons with the Saints.
While Nicks did not participate in New Orleans' pay-for-performance scheme, the Bucs paid a bounty for him — five years, $47.5 million.
Hiring another bodyguard for quarterback Josh Freeman was the motivation behind the signing. And if you talk to defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who faced him twice each season and now battles Nicks every day in practice, it was addition by subtraction.
"I love it. It's a blessing for me because it makes me better in the long run," McCoy said.
Speaking of long runs, it's the way Nicks hopes the Bucs attack on offense under new coach Greg Schiano. While Saints quarterback Drew Brees averaged 623 passes over the past five seasons, Nicks would prefer to run block 30 times a game.
"The first thing is, it gets the defensive line tired," Nicks said. "We wear them down and that helps your pass protection. Another thing is knocking a guy down and watching him get up, seeing the tiredness and the hurt in his eyes, and you just thrive on that.
"There's going to be times when you're going to be tired and I'm going to be fresh after just mauling you."
Nicks and Jahri Evans were considered the league's best guard tandem when they played for the Saints. That distinction could easily be transferred this season to Nicks and Bucs guard Davin Joseph, who has been to two Pro Bowls.
The signing of Nicks also allowed Jeremy Zuttah to move from left guard to center, a more natural position.
How has Nicks fit in with the Bucs' veteran line, which also includes tackles Donald Penn and Jeremy Trueblood?
"O-linemen are all cut from the same cloth," Trueblood said. "We're interchangeable as far as personalities go. He came in and fit right in immediately. … He's a great player. Freak of nature."
This is a new role for Nicks. In New Orleans, he was surrounded by strong leaders such as Brees, Jonathan Vilma and Marques Colston. With the Bucs, players are being asked to follow more than his blocks.
"I'm kind of like looked to as the veteran, and this is barely my (sixth) year," said Nicks, a fifth-round pick from Nebraska. "It's kind of a different role for me. We're young team, and we've got a lot of talent, but it's got to come together, and our attention to details has to be second to none, and our offense has to be one of the best.
"It all starts up front. We're going to be the leaders of this team, I believe, and we're going to win or lose games off our backs.''
Nicks spent the past five seasons keeping Brees upright. But when the quarterback failed to reach a long-term agreement before the start of free agency and received the franchise tender, Nicks was unprotected. The Saints didn't have enough salary cap room to keep him from free agency.
"Carl can be as explosive as he wants to be," Schiano said. "I'm very impressed. He's serious about what he's doing."
An asthma sufferer, Nicks wants to make kids aware that they can live full lives and participate in sports despite the breathing malady. Another cause close to his heart is helping parents and families cope with children with autism. His sister Michelle has the disorder.
"It's tough," Nicks said. "There are a lot of different forms, and it was explained to me that Michelle would have the brain of a 13- or 14-year-old, which wouldn't get any better. She's doing great, and I'm very close to her. But I've seen how hard it is for parents to cope with that, and siblings as well."
So maybe Nicks still is a saint. He'd rather be known as a mauler. And if the Bucs follow his blocks, one day they might return to the postseason.
"It's not a rebuilding year," Nicks said. "We're trying to win. We're trying to shock some teams like how Detroit kind of did after a year of not doing so well and San Francisco shocked the world. We're trying to do something like that."