With a better feel for his place on the team, RB Cadillac Williams is looking for an even stronger year in 2005
Cadillac Williams knows a thing or two about good starts. Eight months ago, his sprint out of the gates at the start of the 2005 season had the Pro Football Hall of Fame sending overnight delivery men to raid his locker.
Williams' three-game, 434-yard explosion at the beginning of his rookie season – the highest rushing total ever by an NFL player in his first three games – led to a 1,183-yard season overall. It was the best rookie total in team history, and it could have been much more had he not lost basically a quarter of the season to a freak foot injury. Williams was named the NFL's Rookie of the Year for his efforts.
The Bucs also made the playoffs, and Williams showed with a strong December that he could handle the rigors of a long NFL season, the injury notwithstanding. It was, all in all, a satisfying season for the former Auburn star, but only because it confirmed his belief that he is capable of much, much more.
Williams plans to prove that in 2006.
"I've got plenty of room to improve," he said after a two-hour "organized team activity" (OTA) day workout this week. "I'm far, far from being where I want to be. I got off to a good start but there are going to be better things to come."
Williams proved as a rookie that he is a complete, every-down runner, capable of succeeding between the tackles or on the edges. Now he wants to show that he is a complete player, an asset to the Bucs' offense no matter what formation is employed or what play is called.
"I want to get better at pass-blocking, catching the ball more, just becoming an all-around player, not only just carrying the ball," he said.
A year ago, Williams' coaches were impressed with how diligently he attacked his studies and how quickly he picked up the system. This year, he heads into May with that information already ingrained and with a much better feel for how he fits into the team.
"It's just me knowing what to expect," said Williams of his greater comfort level this spring. "Now the guys know what I'm all about. Last year, it was a situation where I was a top draft pick, I was a top-five pick, and I really didn't know what to expect, how the guys were going to take me. Now I know how the guys are going to take me, and I kind of look at myself as a leader."
Actually, a good number of new players found a way to fit in rapidly last year – Chris Hovan, Juran Bolden, Alex Smith, Dan Buenning, Anthony Becht, to name a few – and were instrumental in the team's flip from 5-11 in 2004 to 11-5 and the division crown in 2005. With virtually all of that title-winning nucleus intact, plus a few new pieces, Williams believes last year will prove to be a springboard for not just him but the whole team.
"Yeah, the confidence is there, not only me but the team's confidence," he said. "We know what we can do as a team and I know what I can do as a player. I'm definitely looking forward to this year."
Putting It in Writing
A year before Williams took the NFL by storm, wide receiver Michael Clayton had a similarly huge impact in his Buccaneer debut. His 80 catches in 2004 stand as the fifth-highest total by a rookie in NFL history and appeared to put him on the verge of league stardom.
However, while Williams was following his lead in 2005, Clayton struggled through an injury-plagued and subsequently disappointing sophomore season. His output dropped to 32 catches and he missed three games, including the season finale and the playoff contest, due to ailments varying ranging from knee to shoulder. Fully healthy this spring, he's determined to get back on the track laid out in his rookie campaign, and he's got a very interested head coach tracking his progress.
"When you go through that, man, it's just something that you have to bounce back from," he said. "There's nothing that you can do about it, you can't control it. It's just the way this game is played. I play tough and you're going to get hurt, but when you have the opportunity to get well you do that, and that's what I've done this offseason."
Clayton tried hard to stay mentally focused last fall and succeeded much of the time. That focus appears to pale in comparison with the intense determination he has shown since the end of the season, however. Clayton may not be able to control whether or not he is struck by injuries, but he can control how successfully he returns from his ailments and recaptures his game.
"I do have an expectation of where I'm supposed to perform and what level I'm supposed to perform on, and I just took that into my offseason and trained every day and just tried to maximize that every day," he said. "I've seen results and I'm getting better."
Head Coach Jon Gruden has expectations for Clayton, too, and it was important to this dedicated receiver to find out exactly what they are. That led to a heartfelt exchange between the two and some actual documentation of their shared goals. Clayton said Gruden was ready with a typed "contract" describing what he hoped to see from the receiver.
Clayton terms the specific contents of the sheet "a little bit personal," but also said it was what he was looking for.
"It was, 'Coach, what do you want me to do?'" recalled Clayton. "He pulled it out from his desk, laid it on the table [and said], 'This is what I've got for you.' I read it over, I concurred, signed it – sealed, delivered – and now I am where I am. I think that was the thing that put me over the edge, keeping me to that. Coach Gruden has a way with some players."
Clayton's improved conditioning, made possible by his regained health after a 2005 offseason spent largely in forced inactivity, was obvious during the OTA workouts of the past week. Gruden isn't fond of focusing too specifically on any individuals at this time of the year, but he did concede that Clayton is obviously working hard.
"We expect a lot from him, obviously," said Gruden. "It's important to him and he does look good. Hopefully, he looks great soon."
Bucs Give Boston a Tryout
The last player running on the practice field on Thursday, shortly after noon, wasn't any of the 99 men on the Buccaneers' active roster. It was veteran wide receiver David Boston, currently a free agent.
The Bucs had Boston in for a tryout on Thursday, piggybacking the quick field session on the end of the OTA workout. With starting quarterback Chris Simms providing the throws, Boston ran a variety of routes and was timed in the 40-yard dash.
Tryouts are common, of course, and don't necessarily indicate an imminent signing. Still, Gruden said the eighth-year receiver looked good and recalled a 2001 game in which the then-Arizona Cardinal racked up 106 yards and a touchdown on six catches against his former team.
"I've got a lot of respect for what he's done in this league," said Gruden, head coach of the Raiders from 1998-2001. "He had a couple seasons where he was one of the most feared football players in the league. In 2001, I remember what he did to us. He ripped us. He's had his share of adversity with injuries and whatnot in the last couple of seasons, but we're obviously just looking into his situation."
Boston has played in 75 NFL games with 61 starts. His top season came in 2001, when he caught 98 passes for 1,598 yards and eight touchdowns. He spent the last two seasons with Miami, appearing in just five games and making four catches.