Fifth-year RB Cadillac Williams has made another successful return from a serious knee injury
When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed coveted free agent running back Derrick Ward in March and gave incumbent starter Earnest Graham a clean bill of health, it was clear the team wanted to have at least at two-headed rushing attack.
The question mark at the time was Cadillac Williams, the fifth-year back who had missed 23 games over the previous two seasons due to a pair of serious knee injuries. Would he be able to contribute to the rushing attack, and to what degree? Would he even be ready to play when the 2009 season began?
Well, Williams is indeed ready as the Buccaneers prepare for their season opener against Dallas, and if the team's new depth chart is any indication, he's definitely going to make the Bucs' rushing attack a three-pronged attack.
In fact, Williams is listed as starter on the Bucs' first regular-season depth chart of 2009, which was released on Monday. Tampa Bay will open its season at home against the Cowboys this Sunday, September 13.
Click here to view the Buccaneers' most up-to-date depth chart.
This is obviously an exceedingly good sign for Williams, and for the Buccaneers, who are basing much of their plans for the '09 season on the belief that their running game will be deep and strong. Williams played only sparingly in the just-concluded preseason, but he looked extremely sharp when he did get the ball, gaining 54 yards on eight carries.
Few have ever doubted Williams' talents as a back – he was the fifth overall selection in the 2005 draft and that season's NFL Rookie of the Year – but his run of bad injury luck had certainly transformed him into an unknown commodity. He will still have to prove that he is as dynamic a player as he was before his two knee injuries, but as the first man in the rotation he will obviously get that opportunity.
The first of those two knee mishaps, which was the more devastating of the two, knocked Williams out in Week Three of the 2007 season and kept him in rehabilitation until November of the following season. Though some considered that injury career-threatening thanks to a ruptured right patellar tendon, Williams made an inspirational comeback in the second half of 2008 and was starting to round back into form in the final weeks.
Misfortune then struck Williams again as he tore up his left knee in the '08 season finale. In this case, Williams tore the patellar tendon off the bone instead of rupturing it, which while certainly unpleasant is the less serious of the two injuries. He targeted a return to full speed by training camp 2009, but the Buccaneers weren't sure if he would reach that goal.
The first indication that Williams was on track to make it back to a significant role was when he was not placed on the physically unable to perform list to start training camp on August 1. That cleared him to practice from Day One of camp, though Buccaneers management indicated publicly that Williams would probably work on a lighter schedule than most of his teammates, perhaps participating in every other field session.
Williams beat that projection, too, suiting up for virtually every practice at camp and never reporting any discomfort. The Buccaneers maintained the cautious approach by holding Williams out of the first two preseason games as well as the fourth one, but the former Auburn star was clearly itching to play. When he performed so well in a home games against Miami, Head Coach Raheem Morris began devising a three-man running back rotation in earnest, planning a 2-2-1 series alternation between Graham, Ward and Williams.
Morris intends to try that strategy in the regular season, and it appears as if Williams will get a good share of the reps. The Bucs' coach won't stick to that formula rigidly, of course, and he's sure to play the hot hand, no matter which back it is. All three have proven to be starting-caliber backs in the National Football League, and all three have expressed their full acceptance of the three-back rotation. Ward, of course, knows that all three backs can have success with that approach, as he was part of a similar set-up with the New York Giants last year. The Giants led the NFL in rushing and Ward produced 1,025 rushing yards and 41 receptions despite starting only three games.
No matter what size of the rushing load Williams eventually claims, this much is clear: He'll be running out of the tunnel with the Bucs' starters on opening day. For a player who has overcome such daunting obstacles over the past 24 months, that's a victory in itself.
There were a few other interesting matters of now-public record on the team's revised depth chart, such as: