RB Cadillac Williams is active for the first time since last September
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are set – finally – to take their Cadillac out of the garage.
Forgive us the clichéd lead-in, but expectations for the return of star running back Carnell "Cadillac" Williams have been stacking up like…well, cars in rush hour.
Who knows what Williams is capable of after 14 grueling months of rehab from a serious knee injury suffered in September of 2007? Williams and the Buccaneers are confident that the former NFL Rookie of the Year is ready to resume his promising career, but nothing will really be sure until Williams takes a handoff, and then takes a hit.
That should happen today. The Buccaneers have named their eight inactive players for Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field, and Williams isn't among them. With Earnest Graham now on injured reserve, Warrick Dunn will start at tailback for Tampa Bay, but Williams will be ready to contribute to a rushing attack that could be critical for the 7-3 Buccaneers during the playoff stretch drive.
"We're going to let Cadillac play," said Head Coach Jon Gruden. "Obviously Warrick will be the featured guy. We've got six football games left and we're still in this race, so we're going to give Carnell some carries and some looks, see where he is and hope for the best. He hasn't played much so we're concerned about ball security and things of that nature. But at this stage of the game, when you get guys injured, you've got to live in your hopes, not in your fears."
Williams was activated from the Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform list on November 12 but was named one of the team's inactive players last weekend against Minnesota. He had a slight hamstring issue that prompted the Bucs to put him on the injury report this past Friday, but he's ready and available today against the Lions.
"We've had him in practice now for about a month and he sure looks good on the field," said Gruden "But as you know NFL practices in Week 10, 11 or 12 are not the same as training camp. We've done our best to simulate NFL football. We had a padded practice off the bye, we had people taking him to the ground. We've tried to get him some work in pads with ball security. We're confident that he can go out and do a good job because he's done it before."
The Bucs' playoff push may not depend on Williams' performance, but any production he could add to the team's running game would be a major boost. Tampa Bay averaged 136 rushing yards per game during its 4-2 start to the season but has lately had to get by with a less consistent rushing attack.
Graham's move to IR is a big loss, but the Bucs still have the pieces in place to mount a strong rushing attack. Williams was part of a good running game during his rookie campaign in 2005, when he ran for 1,141 yards, but he might find the conditions even more favorable in 2008.
"The exciting thing, really, is that when he did run the ball and was the rookie of the year, that offensive line, no disrespect to them, wasn't as good as the line we have right now," said Gruden. "So we've kind of rallied our troops to play their best football when he's in the game."
The Lions have a burgeoning rookie of the year candidate of their own in starting running back Kevin Smith, the Central Florida product. The Lions' overall woes might make Smith a long shot for the award, but he is putting together an outstanding NFL debut with 513 yards, 4.4 yards per carry and five touchdowns so far.
Smith is one of several potentially dangerous offensive weapons that concern the Buccaneers.
"I saw him make some great runs against Houston," said Gruden. "Over the last three or four weeks he's made some really flashy runs. And Calvin Johnson can beat any coverage. He's just that kind of physical talent. And we know Daunte [Culpepper] well enough just from facing him in the past, and he still shows elusiveness."
The Lions' offense will be without starting center Dominic Raiola, however, as the eighth-year veteran is out with a hand injury. Andy McCollum will start in his place. The Lions are also without reserve WR Mike Furrey, who is dealing with the effects of a concussion.
On defense, the Lions are without starting right defensive end Dewayne White, a former Buccaneer who will be replaced in the lineup by another former Buccaneer, Corey Smith. Free safety Dwight Smith is active today but will be replaced in the starting lineup by Kalvin Pearson in another switch of former Tampa Bay players.
The Lions have named their eight inactive players: Raiola, Furrey, White, QB Dan Orlovsky, CB Keith Smith, LB Anthony Cannon, T Damion Cook and DT Landon Cohen. Raioloa, Furrey, White, Orlovsky and Smith are out due to injuries.
Tampa Bay is missing a few starters as well. S Jermaine Phillips and TE Alex Smith stayed in Tampa for treatment on their arm and ankle injuries, respectively. Phillips will be replaced by second-year man Sabby Piscitelli for the third straight week and Smith's spot on the opening snap will likely be filled by John Gilmore.
In addition to Phillips and Smith, the Bucs named the following players inactive for today's game: QB Brian Griese, WR Dexter Jackson, RB Noah Herron, T James Lee, DT Greg Peterson and designated third quarterback Josh Johnson.
The Buccaneers and Lions will kick off at 1:00 p.m. ET. You'll find the NFL.com Game Center, complete with live play-by-play and statistical updates, at this location once the game has begun. On the Buccaneers.com home page, we'll post a review of all the action at halftime and an extensive game story, with links for stats, photos, scoring information and more, shortly after the final whistle.