Tim Heitman-US PRESSWIRE
Davin Joseph on injured reserve, Carl Nicks on injured reserve, Jeremy Trueblood benched -- injuries have decimated the Tampa Bay offensive line.
When this season started, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had the most expensive offensive line in the NFL. Tampa Bay gave All-Pro guard Carl Nicks a five-year, $47.5 million contract just one season after giving guard Davin Joseph a seven-year, $52.5 million contract. Combined with Jeremy Trueblood's two-year, $11 million contract, Donald Penn's six-year, $41.7 million contract and Jeremy Zuttah's four-year, $16.3 million contract the Bucs sported more highly-paid linemen than any other team in the league.
Ten games into the 2012 season, though, only two of those expensive players are starting, and one of them isn't even starting at his original position. Davin Joseph was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury in the preseason. Carl Nicks was lost to a foot injury during the season. Jeremy Trueblood was benched after just one game.
As if that wasn't enough, the Bucs had trouble filling those spots. Ted Larsen was first asked to fill in for Joseph at right guard, but he was quickly benched for Jamon Meredith -- but not after briefly contemplating Jeremy Trueblood's prospects at the position. When Carl Nicks went down, the Bucs didn't try Larsen at left guard, but asked him to play center while Jeremy Zuttah slid to left guard. Demar Dotson took over effortlessly at right tackle, but that is, of course, the exception.
Overall, the Tampa Bay offensive line looks nothing like its projected configuration during the preseason. The only constant has been Donald Penn, who hasn't missed a game since first earning the starting job in 2007.
And yet, despite all of those changes, the Bucs' offensive line has been doing an outstanding job. Josh Freeman has been sacked just 14 times this season, which ranks second in the league. Of course, the quarterback is a big part of that, and the line has allowed its fair share of hits, but Freeman has been able to get the ball off in an offense that requires time to throw deep. The Buccaneers also sport the league's sixth-best yards-per-carry statistic at 4.7, as the offensive line has been helped by Doug Martin's outstanding vision since the bye week.
Overall, the Expendables on the offensive line have done an outstanding job holding the fort. Next season, the team should have its Pro Bowl players back. But for now, this line has done just fine.