Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Can Offensive Line Survive after Another Crushing Injury?

Knox BardeenNFC South Lead WriterNovember 28, 2012

TAMPA, FL - SEPTEMBER 25:  Josh Freeman #5 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers talks to teammates before playing against the Atlanta Falcons at Raymond James Stadium on September 25, 2011 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

One of the most unsafe jobs to have in Tampa, Fla. this year is an offensive lineman for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

General manager Mark Dominik made a huge splash in the offseason, signing All-Pro guard Carl Nicks and paying him handsomely to anchor the middle of the Buccaneers’ line. The team signed Nicks to a $47.5 million contract and has $121.5 million more tied up in Davin Joseph, Jeremy Zuttah, Donald Penn and Jeremy Trueblood.

The problem with Dominik’s $169 million offensive line is that not many are still on the field.

On Monday, Tampa Bay announced that Trueblood’s season was over and the Bucs had placed him on injured reserve. With Nicks and Joseph already on injured reserve with a foot and knee injury, respectively, only two of the five original starters are still physically able to suit up.

Not only do the Buccaneers only have two starters left from the beginning of the season, only Penn at left tackle is in his original spot. Zuttah started the season at center but was shifted to left guard after Nicks got injured.

Between Nicks and Joseph going down, the Buccaneers have been moving and shifting players like a Rubik’s Cube.

And now the process will continue. Derek Hardman was re-signed on Tuesday, according to the team’s website, to fill in as offensive line depth. Hardman will slide in after starting tackles Demar Dotson and Penn on the depth chart.

Even with all the shuffling, Tampa Bay’s offensive line has performed admirably.

Only three teams around the league have given up fewer sacks than the Buccaneers, who have allowed quarterback Josh Freeman to be taken down just 16 times in 11 games. According to Pro Football Focus, Freeman has, on average, 2.68 seconds from the time the ball is snapped until he attempts a pass. Only three quarterbacks have more time.

But Freeman’s time in the pocket and relative good protection aren’t the only ways Tampa Bay’s offensive line is shining. Rookie running back Doug Martin is also enjoying the unit’s hole-opening prowess.

Martin’s rushed for 1,050 yards this season and is averaging 4.8 yards per carry. He’s the fourth-ranked running back in the league and has nine rushing plays of 20 yards or more. That means his offensive line is doing enough to get him up to full speed so he can attack the second level of the defense.

Losing Trueblood likely won’t affect Freeman or Martin much. He only played two offensive snaps in Week 11 and five in Week 12. He’s only logged 80 snaps over the course of the season.

Where Trueblood’s absence will take a toll is if anyone else falls prey to injury.