TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - Carl Nicks believes the Tampa Bay Buccaneers should be able to put up plenty of points this season.
The All-Pro guard was acquired in free agency to bolster an offensive line that figures to be one of the team's strongest assets. And he expects the unit to set the tone for quarterback Josh Freeman to re-establish himself as a rising young star.
The 6-foot-5, 343-pound Nicks spent the past four seasons as part of one of the NFL's most prolific offenses in New Orleans. The Bucs had one of the league's worst rushing attacks last season, when Freeman also took a step back in his development.
The arrival of Nicks could make Tampa Bay better on the ground, as well as through the air.
"It all starts up front," said Nicks, who signed a five-year, $47.5 million contract in March after helping the Drew Brees-led Saints set a single-season record for yards in 2011. "We're going to be the leaders of this team. We're going to win or lose games off our backs. That's how I take it. That's how the whole offensive line's got to take it."
The Bucs have invested heavily to try to protect Freeman, who was sacked 29 times and had 22 interceptions last season.
In addition to bringing in Nicks, two-time Pro Bowl guard Davin Joseph is entering the second season of a seven-year, $52.5 million deal, and left tackle Donald Penn is in year three of a deal worth $48 million over six seasons.
Acquiring Nicks also enabled the Bucs to move Jeremy Zuttah from left guard to center - another move coach Greg Schiano thinks will make the line stronger.
The Bucs ranked 30th in rushing in 2011, averaging 91.1 yards en route to a 4-12 record that included 10 consecutive losses to end the season. They were middle of the pack - 16th - in passing, but a porous defense and the lack of a consistent running game made Freeman's job much more difficult.
Nicks is confident that will change with the addition of wide receiver Vincent Jackson, tight end Dallas Clark, rookie running back Doug Martin and himself to an offense also featuring promising young players such as running back LeGarrette Blount and receivers Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn.
"I'm kind of looked at as the veteran, and this is barely my fifth year. It's kind of a different role for me," Nicks said.
"We're a young team that's got a lot of talent that's got to come together. Our attention to detail has got to be second to none, and our game preparation has to be the best," he said. "If you can protect the quarterback and run the ball, why should you lose. If they score 70, you've just got to score 71. I put it on my back, the whole offensive line does."
Teammates say Nicks not only brings championship experience to a team that hasn't won a playoff game since the Super Bowl following the 2002 season, but an element of nastiness.
"It's just going to make our line solid from left to right," Joseph said, adding that Nicks also is leading by example with his work ethic.
"We had a very good line last year, but his level of play is, of course, All-Pro status. He's going to make Donald Penn a lot better, he going to make Jeremy Zuttah a lot better, he's going to make me a lot better," added Joseph, a Pro Bowl selection in 2008 and 2011. "A guy of that status coming in here, working as hard as he has is really encouraging to see. He's not really going off of his past, he's working to be a better player."
Nicks smiles when asked about the importance of the offensive line jelling into a physical, dominating unit.
With Brees leading the way, the Saints were a pass-oriented team. He's looking forward to doing more run-blocking as Tampa Bay tries to take some of the pressure off Freeman with a strong rushing attack.
"The first thing is it gets the defensive line tired. We wear them down and that help your pass protection," ''Nicks said. "Another thing is knocking a guy down and watching him get up, seeing the tiredness and hurt in his eyes. You thrive off that. ... If I could maul somebody on every play, that's what I'd do."
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