RB Carnell Williams looked good on the practice field Wednesday, according to Head Coach Jon Gruden
Rookie running back Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, who hasn't played football in almost four weeks, returned to practice on Wednesday and participated in all of the drills. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Jon Gruden said the team is "optimistic" that Williams will see his first action since October 2 this Sunday. And yet…
Don't write Williams' name back into the starting lineup just yet. Or, if you must, use a pencil. Williams debuted on the official injury report as "questionable" for the game.
In essence, that designation is a nod to the uncertainty still surrounding Williams' situation. As he is returning to full practice status for the first time in weeks, the team isn't completely certain how his injured left foot will stand up to the work.
Wednesday's practice was a good start, though.
"He looked okay to me today," said Gruden. "He's got to get back into his rhythm as a football player. He's been out for some time. We expect him to play, to be honest with you, but I can't say any more than that. We'll see how he feels tomorrow and hopefully he feels better and can perform more and more as the week unfolds."
Williams spoke as if his long layoff was about to be over, mercifully. Still, even he admitted that the foot injury is unlike any he's had before and has not responded in a very predictable manner.
"It's strange," said Williams. "I've never had something like this where one day it feels good and the next day it's so-so. Right now, I'm just taking it one day at a time, continuing to get treatment. I'm doing everything they're telling me and I'm working through this thing.
"The progress has been slow. I never thought it would be like this, where I'd be missing two or three games. I've been out a couple weeks now and it's still been giving me trouble. Progress has been slow, but on Sunday I had time to rest, I rested it all last week and I feel like I should be ready to go."
In addition to seeing if his foot passes the test, Williams is also concerned with regaining his rhythm. He exploded immediately onto the scene with 148 yards in his first NFL game, and he had 434 yards by the end of his third outing. He had so many dazzling plays, so many sharp cuts and second-effort successes, that he appeared to be in midseason form from day one. He never expected to follow that start by throttling it back for a month, however.
So it's important that he's participating fully in practice, because that's how he'll get back in a groove.
"I think that starts at practice," said Williams. "[I need to] come out and get that comfort level back at practice. I did get off to an explosive start and now I'm just at a stand-still. I just need to get this thing running this week, and I'm looking forward to it."
Gruden said that Williams' comfort level is important to the offense as a whole. Little things like regaining the feel for the tempo of how the offense gets in and out of the huddle and to the line of scrimmage become important. Fortunately, Gruden has always run a very up-tempo workout, so Williams should have time to regain that comfort level, his foot willing.
"It's not like he's a 12-year veteran, you know," said Gruden. "He's got to get himself back into an every-down frame of mind. That's the kind of back we envision him as and that's the kind of back he's got to be or he won't be playing. We've got a long way to go this week to decide where he is, but we are optimistic."
So the Bucs are still in a bit of a holding pattern with their prized rookie, an experience with which they've become familiar. This time, at least, Williams is making his way through practice, and there seems to be a general level of optimism.
"Yeah, I think I can go," said Williams of Sunday's game in San Francisco. "As a pro athlete in this game, you're never 100%, but I feel like I could go."
In 1991, professional golf newcomer John Daly won the PGA Championship in one of the most memorable coming-out parties in the sports history. He was the ninth and final alternate into the tournament's field, but he shot an opening-round 69 without benefit of a practice round and eventually won by three strokes.
In 1995, Daly, with his enormous tee shots, won the British Open and became just the fourth American to win two majors before his 30th birthday.
It would be eight years, six months and 22 days before Daly would win another PGA Tour event. There were some well-publicized ups and downs in between, but Daly was on top again at the Buick Invitational last year, and he nearly won the American Express Championship earlier this month before falling in the second hole of a playoff with Tiger Woods.
Daly has made a lot of fans with his "grip it and rip it" approach and his appeal to the common man. To Gruden, he is more than that, a living example of an athlete committed to returning to championship form. That's an object lesson for Gruden's Buccaneers, who won the Super Bowl in 2002, followed with two very tough years and are now back in the playoff chase at 5-1 in 2005.
"This guy's been in the limelight, he's had his great days, he's had some tough days, he's shown resiliency and resolve and he's still pounding that golf ball, man," said Gruden. "I like having guys like that around here who have been championship performers and have aspirations of doing it again."
Daly visited the Buccaneers' headquarters on Wednesday and took in the afternoon practice. He professes to be a huge football fan and he was obviously a welcome guest on the Bucs' practice field. Though Daly would probably throw his NFL allegiance to the Pittsburgh Steelers, he has specifically followed Gruden's career and the team's he's coached.
"I've followed Coach for a long time and I love his intensity," said Daly. "I love the way he coaches and it's great to finally come out and see him."
After the main portion of practice and during the team's post-practice work on kickoffs, Gruden stood with Daly and discussed their respective sports. Gruden later claimed that Daly had stopped by to pay off a bet after losing soundly to Gruden on the golf course, but it's more likely the two wanted to share their mutual admiration.
"It was pretty intense; it was beautiful," said Daly of their talk. "He gave me some golf lessons."