TAMPA - The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were suddenly confronted Tuesday with an issue far more pressing than the potential loss of starting cornerback Eric Wright for a few games.
As they close a month in which their offense was among the most dynamic in the league, the Bucs had to place Pro Bowl left guard Carl Nicks on injured reserve with a torn plantar plate in his left big toe.
The Bucs also placed tight end prospect Danny Noble on injured reserve with a hamstring injury, but it is the loss of Nicks that could prove most devastating to a team that already had lost one starting Pro Bowl guard.
The Bucs, who signed Nicks to a five-year, $47.5 million contract during free agency, lost Pro Bowl right guard Davin Joseph to a season-ending knee injury during the preseason.
The Bucs were just beginning to overcome that loss and find their rhythm when Nicks was lost for the year to an injury he's been nursing since the season's first week and now requires surgery.
"(Carl's) locker is two down from mine so I've seen that toe and it's unbelievable what he's (done) to play through it this season," Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber said Tuesday during his radio show on 620 AM.
"I mean, if you saw this toe, it's about the size of two golf balls, just the knuckle on it, so I'm sure there's some structural damage there that needs to be fixed."
With Nicks anchoring what was already a makeshift line featuring replacements at not just right guard but also at right tackle, the Bucs allowed the fifth fewest sacks in the NFL through the first eight weeks of the season.
Meanwhile, during the month of October, one in which they won two of their three games after a 1-3 start, the Bucs led the league in points per game (34), yards per game (472) and yards per play (9.6).
The Bucs also ranked third in the league in rushing yards during October, but now they will have to replace one of the players who made that offensive resurgence possible.
The most likely candidate is Ted Larsen, who has started 14 games for the Bucs between the 2010 and 2011 seasons at left guard.
Larsen was the Bucs' first choice as a replacement for Joseph, but the team scrapped that plan after four games and went with Jamon Meredith after he beat out Larsen and Jeremy Trueblood for starting honors following the bye week.
Trueblood is also a possibility, if only because Bucs coach Greg Schiano believes strongly in playing his best players, even if one of them is out playing out of position, which would be the case with Trueblood.
The Bucs' starting right tackle at the beginning of the season, Trueblood lost his job when Tampa Bay inserted Demar Dotson into the lineup to improve its pass protection for quarterback Josh Freeman.
Trueblood has always been considered the better run blocker, though, but he admitted while battling Larsen and Meredith for the starting right guard's job that he has not played guard since high school.
The Bucs on Tuesday promoted guard Roger Allen to their active roster from the practice squad, but much like Cody Wallace, the 6-foot-3, 325-pound third-year pro out Missouri Western State is seen more as a depth player than a starter.
With an open roster spot and the NFL's trade deadline extended until Thursday to accommodate teams affected by Hurricane Sandy, there is a chance the Bucs could go shopping for a guard.
It is unlikely, though, that anyone joining the team late in the week would be ready to play when the Bucs return to action Sunday against the Raiders in Oakland.
"It's another guy on the O-line that we're losing and that's tough, but the guys that are there just have to step up," Barber added. "And I give a lot of credit to the guys that have already stepped up so far.
"And whoever is next will just have to continue to play good at the position, because that's all the team asks for, is for the position to play well. So whoever it is we can't have a drop-off. That's been our mentality all year."
Tampa Bay Buccaneers