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Wade's injury puts hole at Bucs' center
A dislocated knee knocks out the team's most stable lineman for the season.
By JOANNE KORTH
Published November 9, 2004
[Times photo: Jim Damaske]
QB Brian Griese tends to John Wade, whose left knee injury likely includes severe ligament damage. The seven-yer center had started 24 straight games.
TAMPA - The warm fuzzies didn't last long.
One day after Tampa Bay celebrated a rousing victory against the Chiefs, the mood at One Buc Place was tempered by news of another serious injury to a key player.
Center John Wade dislocated his left knee early in Sunday's 34-31 victory and will miss the rest of the season, coach Jon Gruden said. The injury is severe and typically involves damage to three ligaments.
"This is a terrible injury to one of our leaders and obviously at a key position," Gruden said.
Second-year pro Sean Mahan, a converted guard, replaced Wade against Kansas City and will start Sunday's critical game against NFC South leader Atlanta. After an 0-4 start, Tampa Bay has won three of four and looks to climb into the playoff race with a victory.
The Bucs, energized the past month by resurgent quarterback Brian Griese, also could be without defensive tackle Anthony McFarland, who left the Chiefs game with a right triceps strain and, according to Gruden, is "very questionable" for the Falcons game.
"We have some real obstacles to overcome when you lose two more big people, your center and your under tackle," Gruden said. "It's going to be another gut check in Atlanta."
The Bucs have put six players on injured reserve since the start of the season, including running back Charlie Garner (knee), tight end Rickey Dudley (thumb) and defensive tackle Ellis Wyms (shoulder).
Fullback Mike Alstott is out with a knee ligament sprain. Receiver Joey Galloway has missed six games and left the other two early with a groin injury. Receiver Joe Jurevicius missed the first six games after preseason back surgery.
Now, Wade joins the list.
A seven-year pro, Wade started 24 straight games after being acquired in 2003 as a free agent from Jacksonville. He was the most stable member of an offensive line that has gone through several changes since the Bucs won the Super Bowl.
Hurt on the team's first offensive play, Wade likely will be put on injured reserve this week.
Mahan, a fifth-round draft choice last year out of Notre Dame, never played center in high school or college other than the practice field. He stepped into his first NFL huddle and executed not only the physical but cerebral responsibilities of the underrated position.
Before each play, the center calls out the blocking scheme to teammates at the line of scrimmage. When the quarterback calls an audible, the center changes the blocking scheme accordingly. A mistake by Mahan equals mayhem.
"The center has to study the blocking patterns for our offensive linemen and the backs," said Mahan, 6 feet 3, 301 pounds. "It depends on the play, if it's a run or pass, as to what kind of protection we have. I go off of Griese's audibles, so I have to be ready to change things at the drop of a hat."
Then there's the snap.
Though it might seem rote, the center-quarterback exchange has hurt the Bucs this season. Against Seattle, quarterback Chris Simms fumbled the snap on third down at the Seahawks 1, and the Bucs settled for a field goal in a 10-6 loss. Against St. Louis, a fumbled snap at the Bucs 5 was recovered by the Rams and converted to a touchdown in a 28-21 loss.
"We have basically lost two games to center-quarterback exchanges this year," Gruden said. "So, I won't lie to you and say it's not a concern."
Gruden expects the Falcons, whose defense is vastly improved this season, to test Mahan with blitzes, but he has confidence in the young player's ability.
"He's no different than any backup at any other position," Gruden said. "It will be a challenge. Inexperience is a hard thing to overcome. The Falcons are going to give him a lot of looks, for sure. But he's a good kid; he's smart, quick on his feet, a good athlete and a guy we're excited about as a future prospect here."
Bucs at Falcons, 1 p.m. Sunday, Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Ch.13.