RB Cadillac Williams is looking forward to getting back on the practice field with his teammates
Cadillac Williams admits that, at times, his recovery from a frightening knee injury has left him feeling grim. Even now, more than eight months after he first went down at the end of an 18-yard run at Carolina, Williams fights feelings of uncertainty as much as the physical effects of the mishap.
"The hardest part is the mental part, not knowing what your future holds," he said. "It was a severe injury. The mental part was, and still is, the toughest part but I'm overcoming it.
But when you ask him if he expects to be ready to hit the field when training camp begins, the 2005 NFL Rookie of the Year brightens up instantly.
"Oh yeah, no doubt," said Williams to that very question on Tuesday. "I will be back."
He isn't back yet, but he's working on it. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers held an "organized team activity" (OTA) workout on Tuesday, and Williams watched from the sideline. He also spent several hours with the Buccaneers' trainers, as he has done on a near-daily basis since January.
The repair job on Williams' knee was a bit more complicated than the average surgery, and he spent a lot of time in bed, immobile, in the weeks that followed. Buccaneers Head Coach Jon Gruden acknowledged the struggle of his young back on several occasions, saying it was a 'dark place' that Williams had to work his way out of. Williams himself has met with the media a few times during his recovery, and while he has always spoken with confidence about his future, he isn't the most demonstrative man in the world. But if he seemed quietly stoic in January, he came off as upbeat and positive on Tuesday.
"Early on in the process, you hear talk about 'career-ending injury' and things like that," said Williams. "Early on it did have you down and you get to thinking, but I'm going to give it a go and see what happens. I'm just looking forward to the outcome."
Seeing his teammates resume their preparations for the 2008 season is helpful. Though he isn't ready to join in the offensive huddle, Williams can see the light at the end of the tunnel. He can envision taking handoffs again in July and August, and seeing his career back on track in September, as the Bucs begin their defense of last year's division title.
"Being around the players here [has helped], being around the coaching staff, being in this environment," said Williams. "I was away for three-and-a-half months and it was miserable at times. Coming back and being around the people here has definitely helped the process."
Griese Encounters Old and New
As much as the trade that brought him back to Tampa is a return to familiar surroundings for quarterback Brian Griese, there are still a handful of new places and faces to which he must get accustomed.
First and foremost would have to be the Buccaneers' sparkling state-of-the-art practice facility, a new-and-improved One Buc Place that is a far cry from the old version Griese remembers.
"I was just talking with [one of the groundskeepers] about that," Griese recounted. "I said, 'It's easy to grow grass over here.' I want see them grow grass over at [the old] One Buc. It's beautiful. It's awesome. A lot of these guys don't know where we started with this whole thing, but it's a nice facility."
Furthermore, Griese finds himself amid a new group of quarterbacks on the practice field and in the meeting room. While Chris Simms played alongside Griese in his last stint in Tampa and is still on the Buccaneers' roster, Griese has been getting familiar with the man currently sitting atop the depth chart at the position – returning starter Jeff Garcia.
"I'm looking forward to [playing with Garcia]," Griese said. "I've watched Jeff, obviously, competed against Jeff, and have a lot of respect for him. I think he's a heck of a player. We both bring a lot of experience to the table and hopefully that adds to the room and adds to the team. I think that's probably why they brought me in."
Griese is also going through the process of getting in synch with quarterbacks coach Greg Olson, also in his first year with the club. The two are actually in a similar situation, striving to master an unfamiliar playbook (although in Griese's case, not that unfamiliar) and getting to know the new players surrounding them.
"I'm just getting to know Coach Olson," Griese said. "I really didn't know anything about him, but I've been impressed with the way he's picked up the offense quickly. He's not unlike a quarterback coming in here. He has to learn the system and the verbiage and all that, so it's a process for him too. He's done a good job."
So while Griese's return to the Buccaneers may surely be a walk down memory lane in some regards, there are still plenty of new challenges in store as he dons the pewter and red for a second go-round.
Haye Looks for Even More in 2008
When Jovan Haye first arrived in Tampa, in the last week of October, 2006, he was relatively unknown in the NFL and completely new to the position the Buccaneers wanted him to play.
Signed off Cleveland's practice squad, Haye was a defensive end for the Panthers and Browns who seemed like a good fit at under tackle to the Buccaneers. He saw increasingly large chunks of action during the last nine games of the '06 season and showed quite a bit of promise on the interior line.
When Haye returned for the start of Tampa Bay's offseason program in March of 2007, he was a very intriguing prospect but still part of a pool of about five players who might earn the team's starting under tackle spot. As it turned out, Haye did win that starting job, and he went on to post 97 tackles and six sacks. That's the type of production the Buccaneers want to get out of such a critical position, or at least a rousing first step in that direction.
On Tuesday, the Bucs' officially announced that they had re-signed Haye for the upcoming season. The move was somewhat of a given since Haye was a restricted free agent, but it was still good news for a player who now wants to take the next step.
This year, though there is always competition for jobs in training camp, Haye will go into as the starter. He opened all 16 games at that spot in 2007 and was an important part of the team's rebound to second in the NFL's defensive rankings.
"This game is always played on a one-year basis and guys are always pushing each other," said Haye. "It happens all the time. I'm always fighting, but this year I look at it like I'm fighting to defend our house and win the Super Bowl. It's always a fight, but guys come out here and compete and push each other, and whatever happens, happens."