Yardbarker Horiz

Monday, October 11, 2010

Buccaneers Have Been Searching For Backup To Center Jeff Faine For A Long Time

On September 5th, the day after the 2010 roster cuts from 75 men to 52, there was one transaction which was lost in the shuffle.  And it might be an indicator of things to come.

Going into Week 5 of the 2010 season, the only center on the Buccaneers roster was Jeff Faine.  When Faine needs to be spelled (or is knicked up), current starting Guard Jeremy Zuttah slides over and veteran Keydrick Vincent (G) steps in at left guard.  That means two players who graded out at different positions are responsible for defending quarterback Josh Freeman, who still has less than one year of starting experience.  When Faine left the game against the Bengals, all the experienced offensive line talent was called into duty -- with no room for another injury.  There is no room for injury because of the event I've alluded to.  And that event was . . .

Jonathan Compas (C) going on IR.  Compas entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2008. The Buccaneers moved Compas to center behind Faine on the depth chart last season.  When Compas went on IR just before the 2010 season started the Buccaneers got very thin in the middle.  And thin in the middle is dangerous with a young quarterback at the helm.

The day after Compas hit IR (Sept 6th) the Buccaneers signed Ted Larson, a 2010 6th round pick by New England, when the Patriots tried to sneak him over to their practice squad.  But this was not really a depth move, it's was a for-the-future move.  Playing center is complicated.  It's well known how Jeff Faine calls the coverages for the big guys up front.  To play center, you have to be on the same page as the quarterback as well as the entire offensive line.  Oh, and you have to snap the ball as well.  So Larson, with no training camp, is essentially a learn-as-you-go player.  In other words, don't expect him to be on the field before he goes through a full offseason with the team.

Which brings us back to Compas.  Compas was in the same position last year that Larson is in now.  Jeremy Zuttah was playing full-time at Guard because of the loss of Aaron Sears. Then the worst case scenario unfolded: Faine went down with a triceps injury (harsh when you're the center) in Week 1.  The Buccaneers opted to not put Compas on the field, and instead pulled Sean Mahan off the street due to his familiarity with the system (Mahan, an experienced center, had been cut at the end of training camp just before last season after playing for the Steelers in 2008).

When Faine returned in Week 6 of 2009, Mahan was released.  In Week 7, Josh Freeman made his first appearance for the Buccaneers and Week 8 of 2009 Josh Freeman started his first NFL game.  Coincidence?  I think not.  Did it go unnoticed?  You bet -- but it clearly demonstrates how important center Jeff Faine is to this team.

Now, the next chapter begins.  Compas was taken off of IR on Sept 24th and cut, opening a spot for 2010 draft pick Erik Lorig to be promoted from the practice squad to the active roster.  If Faine is down for an extended period, things get tight.  This certainly shows the value of General Manager Mark Dominik bringing in Keydrick Vincent from the Carolina Panthers during the past offseason.  It at least makes the Zuttah/Vincent/Faine position swap possible.  And kudos to the coaching staff and Head Coach Raheem Morris for getting Zuttah snaps at center during the preseason.  If Faine has a long duration injury, the Vincent move is front office gold, and the preseason experience provided to Zuttah by the coaching staff shows excellent foresight and attention to detail.

It appears the Buccaneers could be in a tricky situation and there is not an easy solution running around.  Where Mahan was available after being cut last season, Compas was already declared for the IR and cannot play this season. Zuttah and Vincent must pick up the slack.  This is an issue which we have been following for a quite a while now -- and it has struck again.  Zuttah and Vincent stepped in against the Bengals with good results (a win), but from now on teams will challenge them.

Obviously a high-quality backup center is something General Manager Mark Dominik has been trying to identify and injury derailed his plans this season.  The problem is there is no viable solution.  It's too early to say for sure, but this is one injury situation which could define the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as simply "improved" or an actual Playoff Team in 2010. 

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