Like last week, the Bucs rested RB Cadillac Williams on Wednesday with the intention of working him slowly into more action
Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie Carnell "Cadillac" Williams has 88 carries for 434 yards through his first three NFL games.
Now, let's see, at that rate...let's check the calculator...yep, Williams is on pace for 250 predictions that he's about to hit the wall and 141 doomsday scenarios about his legs simply giving out in mid-October. Of course, we're rounding up.
Forgive us for being glib, but there does seem to be a rush to find the black lining to the sleek silver cloud the Bucs have suddenly found in their backfield. It's not that concerns over a possible overuse of Williams are totally unreasonable – he is already fighting a strained left foot – but the din seems awfully loud this week. Even Williams has heard it, between phone calls from his mom, who is keeping him up to date on all his appearances in the national media.
"I think people are [overreacting]," said the good-natured Williams, who still didn't appear as if the question bothered him much. "If I was sitting up here 230 or 240 pounds, it wouldn't be such a big deal. I guess with me being 210 pounds, it is a big deal to everybody. Can I hold up? It's definitely not a concern with me. I'm one of those players who wants to do whatever it takes to get the job done."
Bucs Head Coach Jon Gruden has certainly heard the question often enough since Williams' 37 carries in Green Bay, 14 of which came in the fourth quarter as the Bucs clung narrowly to a one-point lead and were desperate to drain the clock while on offense. That trumped the 27 carries Williams had in his debut in Minnesota and the 24 he added against Buffalo in the home opener. Since Gruden is the one calling the plays, it's not a stretch to call the questions a form of criticism, or at least second-guessing. By Wednesday, after an afternoon practice in which Williams was rested for much of the two hours, Gruden was a bit weary of defending the Bucs' first-month approach.
"I'm just tired of hearing about it, honestly," he said. "We're trying to win games. The way we played the last three weeks, we've had leads into the fourth quarter, the clock is the enemy, we're going to run the ball a little bit. I'm not going to apologize for giving him the ball, okay? That's the way it goes."
Williams' actual per-game pace for carries so far, extrapolated out to a full 16-game season, is 469 carries. The NFL record for a rookie, set by Eric Dickerson, is 390. But just like we're not convinced that his 434 yards right now makes him a shoo-in for an NFL-record 2,315 by season's end, we're not wasting much time on that 469-carry figure.
Look at it this way. Let's say the Bucs' next game involves the offense having to come back from an early deficit, and the team is forced to go almost exclusively to the air in the second half. Maybe Williams only gets 15 carries in that game, even if the Bucs had intended to run him more. Now he has 103 carries through four games and the full-season extrapolation falls all the way to 412.
Now let's say Williams stays on that 412-carry pace (it's about 26 per game) for three more games. Now he's at 180 through seven games. Then in the eighth contest, the Bucs build a huge lead early in the second half and are content to hand over much of the rushing duties in the third and fourth quarters to Michael Pittman and Earnest Graham. Once again, Cadillac gets 15 carries on the day.
Now he's at 195 at the midway point. And that pace would get him to exactly 390 by the end of the year, equaling what Dickerson did in 1983. Did those 390 carries wear Dickerson down to an ineffective nub? Well, he ran 1,075 times for 5,160 yards over the next three seasons. So, uh, we'll say no.
Is Cadillac Williams another Eric Dickerson? Who knows? Maybe he's another Earl Campbell (in production if not size), who averaged 351 carries over his first four seasons but had only one 1,000-yard season after that. Or maybe he's another Emmitt Smith, who was still getting huge amounts of carries and yards a dozen years into his career, and who even carried the rock 267 times for 937 yards last year at the age of 35. Maybe he's Eddie George, the poster boy for "hitting the wall" who nonetheless had a 10,000-yard career. Maybe he's Barry Sanders and he'll still be going strong 10 years into his career when he decides to leave on his own terms.
Or maybe – we should probably say "likely" – he's none of these things. After all, his entire career consists of three games and we just spent a paragraph comparing him to some of the best backs in league history. Maybe he just leads us into overreacting, in many ways.
Maybe he's just Cadillac Williams, his own man, and none of us has any idea yet on what he can do or what his limitations are.
One thing that seems obvious about Williams is that he is an extremely motivated player. Some of his 20 and 30-yard runs, as he has broken multiple tackles and carried several guys with him for extra yards, speak rather obviously to his determination, especially when they are his 25th or 35th carry of the game. That factor may keep him from hitting the wall in terms of just this season, which to be fair is what most of the concerns are about.
Quarterback Brian Griese, who is on pace for an NFL-record 469 handoffs to the same player, thinks that's what the "rookie wall" is all about, rather than a specific amount of games or plays where a rookie suddenly loses it physically.
"I don't think there's a wall, per se," said Griese. "It stresses you mentally. The guys who are really able to handle it are the guys who are mentally tough and are able to come in week-in and week-out and focus on the job they have at hand and not take it lightly. There's not much difference between the talent on teams anymore in the NFL, and if you're not prepared like you had prepared at the beginning of the season, you're going to be exposed."
Williams teammates definitely put him into that "mentally tough" category. They certainly saw that against Buffalo a week and a half ago when he successfully lobbied Gruden to put him back into the game after suffering his foot sprain.
"Cadillac seems very motivated this season to be a very effective runner," said tight end Anthony Becht. "If he takes care of his body and does the things he needs to do, he'll last for the season. He's the focal point of our offense and we're going to give him his blows. He needs to be a workhorse for us right now and do the things he's doing and he'll be successful."
Fullback Jameel Cook has provided some of the lead blocking for Williams in two-back sets. He's not overly concerned with the debate over Williams' season-long stamina, but if you're going to ask him what he would do, he's got a simple answer.
"The guy's a warrior, man," said Cook. "The young guy, he loves to play. He doesn't like to come watch the game. He likes to run the ball. I'd keep feeding it to him, and I think that's what we're going to continue to do."
Williams was one of only three players on the Bucs' official injury report when it debuted for the week on Wednesday. Williams is considered probable to play despite the lingering soreness in his foot. However, safety Dexter Jackson and guard Matt Stinchcomb are listed as questionable and will probably be game-time decisions.
Stinchcomb has missed the first three games due to a lower back injury. Jackson sustained a hamstring pull in the first half at Green Bay. Jackson and Williams were held out of some of the full-team work on Wednesday, but Stinchcomb did practice.
The Lions have a more extensive injury report, including two players – QB Jeff Garcia (ankle) and FB Cory Schlesinger (leg) – who are listed as out. Among the questionable Lions is kicker Jason Hanson, who hasn't played since the season opener due to a hamstring injury on his kicking leg. Hanson was replaced against the Bears by first-year K Remy Hamilton out of Michigan.
For full injury reports for both teams, please click here.