Auburn RB Cadillac Williams will play for the Bucs' coaching staff on the Senior Bowl South squad
Is Auburn running back Cadillac Williams one of the five best available players in the upcoming NFL Draft?
If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers wanted to answer that question to the satisfaction of their own draft board at this moment, they would rely on game film, the eyewitness reports of a few scouts and the impression Williams has made on a handful of Saturday afternoon broadcasts.
In less than two weeks, however, the Bucs will have a much more thorough and very personal scouting report on Williams
The highly-regarded Auburn back is one of approximately 50 players who will comprise the South Squad for the 2005 Senior Bowl, which will be played a week from Saturday. Tampa Bay's staff will be coaching that South team against the Oakland Raider-led North Squad, so Buc officials will get a hands-on, up-close look at Williams during a week's worth of practices and meetings.
Jon Gruden and his staff will also put USC defensive tackle Shaun Cody through the paces, watch a week's worth of route-running by Florida State wide receiver Craphonso Thorpe and gauge the arm strength of Georgia quarterback David Greene.
Some of the most intriguing draft-eligible talent in the nation will be under the direction of the Buccaneers' coaching staff for the week of January 24-29 in Mobile, Alabama, including players often mentioned as possible first-round picks, such as Williams, Cody, UAB wide receiver Roddy White and LSU defensive tackle Marcus Spears.
"It's a talented roster not only for the South team but for the North team," said Buccaneer Head Coach Jon Gruden. "It will be a great experience for our entire organization to evaluate the players on both sides."
And while Saturday's game is the highlight of the week, the hours spent on the practice field and in the meeting room will be at least as enlightening for the Buccaneer staff, if not more.
"We'd obviously rather be playing right now, but these guys love to coach," said Gruden. "The players are eager to get their professional careers started, and it's a great experience. It's a great responsibility too, to help these guys do well during the course of the week."
The South roster begins with a trio of quarterbacks who finished their careers with big 2004 seasons. Auburn passer Jason Campbell led the Tigers to an undefeated season, completing 69.7 of his passes, throwing 19 touchdowns and finishing third in the nation with a passer rating of 172.9. Georgia's Greene was 12th in the nation with a rating of 142.9 and he compiled a remarkable touchdown-interception ratio of 18-2 (not to mention 70-30 over his four-year career). Arizona State's Andrew Walter finished eighth in the nation with 30 touchdown passes and has 82 scoring passes in his three seasons at the Sun Devils' helm.
Williams, who shared time in the backfield with another potential first-round back, Ronnie Brown, is the top name among the South's running backs. He rushed for 1,104 yards and 12 touchdowns on 220 carries, a year after gaining 1,307 yards and scoring 17 times as a junior. Other backs on the South squad include Tennessee's Cedric Houston, West Virginia's Kay-Jay Harris and the Citadel's Nehemiah Broughton.
Joining Thorpe on the South receiving squad is the nation's receiving yardage leader, Alabama-Birmingham's Roddy White. The 6-3, 205-pound White caught 71 passes for 1,452 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2004, picking up 20.5 yards per catch, the highest average in the nation among players with at least 50 receptions. Matt Jones, who threw for 2,073 yards and ran for another 622 in 2004 as the starting quarterback at Arkansas, will begin his transformation to wide receiver at the Senior Bowl.
A trio of outstanding guards will beef up the South's offensive line – Virginia's Elton Brown, Mississippi's Marcus Johnson and Alabama's Evan Mathis. The South will also feature one of the nation's highest-rated centers, North Carolina's Jason Brown.
Those linemen can bang away against a talented group of defensive linemen in practice. In addition to Cody and Spears, the South pass-rushers will include Florida State's Travis Johnson, USC's Mike Patterson and Mississippi State's Ronald Fields. The 6-5, 290-pound Johnson recorded 50 tackles in 2004 for the Seminoles, 18 of which were for losses, while the relentless Cody racked up 10 sacks and 13 tackles for loss for the Trojans.
Tennessee's Kevin Burnett, a preseason All-American who almost declared for the draft last year, heads up Gruden's linebacking corps. Burnett had 120 tackles for the Vols last year; he and Southern Miss linebacker Michael Boley, soon to be Senior Bowl teammates, were two of the 12 semifinalists for the 2004 Butkus Award, given to the nation's top linebacker.
In the secondary, the South team will boast the 2004 winner of the Jim Thorpe Award, which goes to the nation's top defensive back. Auburn cornerback Carlos Rogers accepted that trophy in December after allowing only 18 passes to be completed against him during the Tigers' undefeated season. Two other Thorpe Award semifinalists will join Rogers in the South backfield – Georgia Tech's James Butler and LSU's Corey Webster.
The South squad even has notable talent at the kicking positions. Handling the placekicking will be Mississippi's Jonathan Nichols, who won the Lou Groza Award as the nation's top placekicker in 2003. Punter Dustin Colquitt, another Tennessee standout, was a finalist for the 2004 Ray Guy Award.
Obviously, the North roster is talented, too, as Gruden mentioned. Among the stars on the opposing team are quarterbacks Charlie Frye and Kyle Orton, wide receiver Mark Clayton, offensive tackle David Baas, defensive linemen Dan Cody and Antaaj Hawthorne and linebacker Lance Mitchell.
Other stars may emerge during the game, or even on the practice field leading up to the contest. The Buccaneers are just glad they'll have a front row seat for the whole thing.