RB Carnell Williams played a rough and rugged game Sunday, running mostly between the tackles and gaining many yards after the initial hit
It looks as if you will be spared, at least for now, an avalanche of "flat tire" analogies.
Cadillac Williams, the rookie Tampa Bay Buccaneer running back taking the NFL by storm, sustained a left foot injury during his 128-yard rushing performance on Sunday, though he carried the ball nine more times in the second half after initially leaving the game.
On Monday, Bucs Head Coach Jon Gruden said he was "optimistic" about Williams' condition and that he preliminarily expects the deceptively tough runner to play on Sunday in Green Bay.
Williams was hurt on his last run of the first half, during a drive in which he carried the ball seven times for 46 yards, leading to fullback Mike Alstott's one-yard touchdown run. He convinced Gruden to let him back in the game in the second half and, when he got his wish, ripped off a 19-yard run on his next touch. Even in the fourth quarter, Williams carried five times for 30 yards on a 54-yard field goal drive.
Obviously, Williams' return to the game was a good sign, but he admitted to playing through pain in the second half and the team was eager to see how he would feel on Monday morning. That examination went well.
"He sprained a muscle in his foot," said Gruden. "We think he's going to be okay for the [Green Bay] game. We are very optimistic."
Gruden wasn't sure on Monday if Williams would be cleared to practice on Wednesday, when the Bucs began their on-field preparations for the Packers game. In other words, it is a situation that bears further watching, even if the Bucs feel relatively confident on Monday.
"It's hard to say until Wednesday gets here," said Gruden. "We think he's going to be okay. I can just be honest and update you then. But we do think he's going to play in the game. He might be [limited in practice] and he might not be. I don't know yet."
Gruden had no other significant injuries from Sunday's game to report on Monday morning, and that's also good news. Struck fairly hard by the injury bug during the disappointing 2003 and '04 seasons, the Bucs are hoping to have better medical luck this season, as that is often a deciding factor in a playoff run.
It's fair to say the Bucs would have been particularly loathe to lose Williams, considering his historic start. The former Auburn star has 276 rushing yards through his first two NFL games, a figure topped by only four other men in league history. Here are the five fastest running back starts in league annals, with an additional column showing those backs' eventual career totals, just for the heck of it:
Most Rushing Yards, First Two Games of Career
|Player||Team||Year||2-Gm. Total||Career Total|
|Ottis Anderson||St. Louis||1979||302||10,273|
|Carnell Williams||Tampa Bay||2005||276||???|
It's doubtful anyone predicted that Williams would be on pace for a 2,208-yard season after just two outings, though he was a popular preseason Rookie of the Year pick. Still, Cadillac's early success has not been terribly shocking to the Bucs' brain trust.
"Well, I would like to say that it's somewhat surprising that he's had this success, but we really felt that he was a great, great running back, to be honest with you," said Gruden. "I think he's proven to everybody what he's all about. He's a great running back, he's a tremendous competitor, he's got great poise and stamina. We're really excited, obviously."
The Bucs have played inspired ball through two games, giving the season an early momentum this team hasn't experienced in some time. Even the Super Bowl season of 2002 started out 0-1. As phenomenally as the Bucs' defense has played, inspiring thoughts of that '02 campaign, it has been Williams' stunning emergence that has really pumped life into the team.
"Those kind of guys have a tendency to rev up the team and rev up the crowd and rev up the coach," said Gruden. "He's a fun guy to have around. He certainly stimulates all of us. He's just a play away from making something big happen. Hopefully it continues, we're going to continue to feature him, as I said all along, provided his health is good."
In fact, Williams has probably helped the defense get off to such a good start by keeping them off the field for long stretches at a time. When he carried the ball five times on a nine-play touchdown drive – after the foot sprain – he put the defense in position to kill the third quarter with one good stand.
"We had a seven or eight-minute drive early in the third quarter and you look up and there are only five minutes left in the quarter and our defense is really on the field for the first time, basically," recalled Gruden. "If they're fresh and they're feeling good they're a dangerous handful to deal with. It goes hand-in-hand, you run the ball you're going to have time of possession and it is going to have a favorable impact on the defense, I believe."
Fortunately, it appears as if the Bucs will be able to continue relying on that formula. Williams has a sore foot, yes, but we can hold off on those flat-tire clichés for awhile longer.