Training camp starts in a little more than a week and the Bucs first preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars is scheduled for August 8th. Some of the Bucs faithful may be apprehensive regarding the offensive line given the significant changes made to this group during the off season. The biggest source of apprehension is the health of Carl Nicks’ toe and his recovery from his bout with MRSA. Prior to his toe injury and MRSA infection, Nicks was arguably the finest offensive guard in the NFL. The All Pro Guard seemed like an exceptional free agency pick up by the Bucs when they signed him away from the New Orleans Saints on March 14, 2012. For the Saints, Nicks started and played at a high level in 61 of 64 games. Since signing with the Bucs, Nicks has started and played in 9 games over the last two seasons.
The Bucs front office have been relatively quiet regarding Nicks. Nicks has stated that he expects to be ready by the start of training camp. If Nicks is ready to play at his All Pro level at the start of the 2014 season then the offensive line could well become a very pleasant surprise. The stability of the offensive line this coming season starts with Nicks. With the left guard position filled by Nicks, four of the five offensive line positions looks solid.
Anthony Collins, the young veteran who started showing real promise with the Bengals was picked up by the Bucs this past off season as an unrestricted free agent. He’s slotted at the left tackle position next to Nicks. Another young, promising offensive lineman is Evan Dietrich-Smith who parlayed a solid performance in 2013 as the Packers starting center into a lucrative free agent contract with the Bucs. The right tackle position will likely go to Demar Dotson who has started 31 of the last 32 games for the Bucs.
The right guard position and backing up Dietrich-Smith at center is where I expect to see fierce and very interesting competition. Jamon Meredith, the six year veteran from South Carolina with 24 starts in 47 NFL games (20 for the Bucs in the last two seasons) will be competing with Patrick Omameh, the second year veteran from Michigan who the Bucs picked off the 49ers practice squad last year. Both of these players should make the final roster cut. The Bucs have two rookie free agent centers, Josh Allen out Louisiana-Monroe and Andrew Miller from Virginia Tech who will be competing to back up Dietrich-Smith. Oniel Cousins, another 2014 Bucs free agent signing, has played in 59 NFL games with 9 starts with the Baltimore Ravens and more recently with the Cleveland Browns. Cousins is expected to provide depth for the Bucs and potentially back up Collins at left tackle. With Nicks out during the recent OTAs, Kareem Edwards, the Tennessee State 2014 fifth round draft pick saw playing time at left guard. Edwards and Jason Foster, from Rhode Island will likely be competing to back up Carl Nicks. Kevin Pamphile the other 2014 Bucs fifth round draft pick along with the undrafted free agent Matt Patchan from Boston College will also be competing for an offensive tackle position.
The Bucs will likely keep eight offensive lineman on their final roster. Barring major injuries during training camp and preseason, the five safest lineman to make the Bucs final roster are Anthony Collins, Carl Nicks, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Demar Dotson, and Jamon Meredith. I am really looking forward to reporting how the remaining three positions are filled. Oniel Cousins, Kadeem Edwards, Kevin Pamphile, Matt Patchan, Josh Allen, Andrew Miller and Jason Foster are all capable of making the 2014 Bucs roster.
Looking at the offensive line from a purely NFL experience perspective, Anthony Collins, Carl Nicks, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Jamon Meredith, and Demar Dotson represent a young, veteran offensive line with loads of upside. Anchored by a healthy Nicks, this unit has the potential to be a very solid offensive line.