Fourth-year RB Cadillac Williams last played in a game in September of 2007
Four hundred and nine days after he tore up his knee at the end of an 18-yard run at Bank of America Stadium, Cadillac Williams is back on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' active roster.
The Buccaneers made the expected move on Wednesday, activating Williams from the Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform List to their 53-man roster, thereby making it possible for the fourth-year back to resume his promising NFL career. To make room for Williams on the roster, the team released eighth-year running back Michael Bennett.
Williams suffered a serious knee injury against the Panthers on September 30, 2007, one more complicated than the common ACL tear. His rehabilitation process was thus longer than usual, and at times quite grueling.
Williams was not ready to return to the field when the Buccaneers reported to training camp in July of this year, and thus was placed on the PUP list. He was eligible to return to practice with the team after six weeks, but the Buccaneers utilized a one-week window to plot a course for his comeback before letting him suit up. Tampa Bay management then had three weeks to work with Williams on the practice field before deciding whether or not to add him to the active roster.
Obviously, the Buccaneers were encouraged by what they saw at practice. Williams attacked his rehab work with extreme diligence, and that has allowed him to be a potential difference-maker for the Bucs down the stretch in what should be a wild NFC South title chase.
On Monday, Head Coach Jon Gruden suggested that Williams will be eased slowly back into the office, and not thrust right back into the lead dog role he had before his injury. During his recovery, Earnest Graham has emerged as a starting-caliber tailback in the NFL and the team has also added 10,000-yard man Warrick Dunn and recently found a part-time helper in rookie Clifton Smith.
"Obviously this is a process and we'll take it day by day," said Gruden. "As we gather more and more information, get evidence that he's 100 percent back, obviously his role will be determined by that."
Still, Williams' return, even if it's gradual, could come at a very opportune time for the Buccaneers, who have recently had difficulty putting together a healthy backfield. Dunn has missed much of the last three games with a back injury and Graham is currently trying to overcome a mild knee ailment of his own. Graham has also emerged as an important part of the team's efforts at fullback with starter B.J. Askew out since Week Three.
Graham, Dunn and Askew all might play on Sunday against the Vikings. But so might Williams, and that's some of the best news the 6-3 Buccaneers have received all season. Many NFL teams are finding ground-game success with a collection of backs – example: Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw of the New York Giants – and the Bucs think they could have a very potent group of their own.
"If we could ever get Warrick Dunn and Earnest Graham and Carnell Williams [together], that would be exciting for us," said Gruden.
It will be exciting for Buccaneer coaches, players and fans simply to see their Cadillac taking handoffs again. The 2005 NFL Rookie of the Year made one of the most stunning debuts in league history that year when he ran for a record 434 yards in his first three games. His latest start may not be as explosive – by design – but it will be just as meaningful to him.
"I've put in a lot of work," said Williams. "I'm just excited. In these next few weeks we'll see what happens."