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'HUGE' INJURY FOR BUCS

Center Jeff Faine will miss an estimated 4-6 weeks, leaving Tampa Bay pondering options to fill his spot.

Shortly after suffering a left triceps injury in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 34-21 loss to the Cowboys, center Jeff Faine tore his helmet off and tossed it to the bench.

On Monday, Faine's frustration was shared by the Bucs upon learning the league's highest-paid center will miss several weeks with what the team called a triceps strain.

Coach Raheem Morris said Faine will not require surgery but was vague about the timetable for his return. It's thought the injury could take 4-6 weeks to heal.

"That's a huge loss, losing a guy like Faine," Morris said. "Huge.

"It's just his intensity, starting the game. He kind of fires me up looking at him in pregame. He fires me up looking at him in the game. You guys all know the knowledge, you all know how smart he is, you all know how well prepared he is, how good of a professional he is."

Faine is the leader of the offensive line, which paved the way for a strong rushing attack against the Cowboys. Tampa Bay rushed 31 times for 174 yards and two touchdowns.

The Bucs have several options at center without Faine. The best may be to move second-year guard Jeremy Zuttah to center. But he suffered a mild ankle sprain and could miss some practice this week.

"We haven't talked about anything right now," Zuttah said. "Whatever they ask me, I'm willing to do.

"I haven't done much since that first minicamp. I took all the reps then, but since then, I haven't taken any. It would just take some adjusting."

The Bucs claimed Raiders rookie Jonathan Compas off waivers last week, and he finished Sunday's game. Marc Dile, a rookie from South Florida, can play center as well.

"It's a lot to absorb in a short time," Compas said. "I was in Oakland before this, ran the West Coast offense, too. Some of the terminology carries over, but I'll have to have a high learning curve, especially this week."

On Monday, the Bucs signed center Sean Mahan, whom they had cut Sept. 2. But Mahan is considered a backup, not necessarily an option to start at Buffalo.

Replacing Faine will not be easy because of his value to the offensive line, tackle Jeremy Trueblood said.

"The center position is probably the hardest position on our offensive line mentally," Trueblood said. "He has to set the protections, set the run scheme. Basically, whatever he calls, he's drawing it up for us in our heads so we know what to do.

"Anyone who plays the position, they have their work cut out for them. Faine is a pretty smart guy, so he always does something with his physical ability and mental mind-set. It's something we have to deal with."

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