RB Cadillac Williams is expecting defenses to target him first
Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Carnell "Cadillac" Williams has to feel like a marked man. Coming off a successful rookie campaign in which he earned Rookie of the Year honors and set an NFL record with 434 rushing yards in his first three games, Williams begins his sophomore season with the advantage of having a full year of experience under his belt. Of course, that also means opposing defenses have a full year's worth of Cadillac highlights to study.
That means teams such as the Baltimore Ravens, against whom the Buccaneers open the regular season Sunday, are more likely to know Williams' running style, his tendencies, his jukes, etc. In fact, it's a safe bet that Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis and strong safety Ed Reed – both well known for their devotion to film study – have familiarized themselves with every aspect of Williams' game. They've surely been informed that the Bucs didn't lose a game last year when Williams rushed for at least 100 yards. In addition, the Ravens lost three of the four games last year in which they allowed 100-yard rushers. That means Ravens defenders will be keying on Williams early and often, and the second-year back knows it.
"The target is definitely there, but I think with the first three games [last year], after my start, the target was there all year," Williams said. "I know pretty much coming in that teams' number-one goal is to stop the run. They feel like if you stop the run, you're going to win ballgames. I already know that coming in, but with the group of guys we've got and Coach [Jon] Gruden's system, it's going to be tough for teams to do that."
That "group of guys" includes wide receiver Joey Galloway. At age 34, he's still the fastest man on the team and possibly the fastest in the league. His counterpart on the other side of the field is big-bodied receiver Michael Clayton, who is again healthy and looking as explosive as he did as a rookie. Sending an eighth defender in the box to crowd Williams will mean thinning the coverage on those two men. Quarterback Chris Simms also will have outlets in tight ends Alex Smith, who is coming off a 41-catch rookie season, and newly acquired Doug Jolley, a proven pass-catcher. The degree to which Simms utilizes these options in stretching the field and loosening up the defense will largely determine the success of Williams and fellow backs Michael Pittman and Mike Alstott.
"This is a team sport," Williams said. "I definitely can't do it by myself. I know I need my teammates. I've got total confidence in those guys."
One of the men Williams specifically singled out is 2005 first-round draft pick Davin Joseph, a powerful lineman out of Oklahoma who has worked his way into the starting lineup at right guard. Throughout the preseason, Joseph has worked with the starting offensive line, gaining experience against starting defenses and building on a strong training camp. Against the Ravens, he will be tested through and through.
"I think [Joseph's] going to be a big help," Williams said. "The guy's athletic, the guy's strong, the guy's physical. First of all, he's a smart player. He came in and picked up on Coach Gruden's offense well. [With] the addition of him and the other linemen, I think it might be a big year."
Bigger than 1,178 yards? Why not? Williams missed three games last season with a foot injury and carried the ball only 24 times in a five-week span. This season, he's fully healthy and, in addition to his halfback duties, he's expected to play a bigger role in the Buccaneers' passing game, creating favorable mismatches with linebackers forced into covering him.
"I definitely feel like I'm more of a threat," Williams said. "If Coach Gruden decides to use me [in the passing game], that's fine. If not, I'm going to do whatever I can to help this team."
Williams knows meeting that responsibility means staying healthy, and he's devoted more time this past offseason to taking care of his body in an effort to prevent injuries as well as be at his optimum level of performance on Sundays.
"The main thing is just preparing better, taking care of my body more – all those little injuries that you usually just take for granted and say, 'It will be ok,'" Williams said. "You just stay on top of your body more, you try and get more physical. I have a little workout plan that I actually do that was successful for me. In year two, the world's not spinning like it was in year one, that's the main thing."
As for getting off to another record-breaking start, Williams said he tries not to get caught up in his numbers, and he's more concerned with finishing strong.
"For one, we didn't go to a Super Bowl – that's the number-one goal, to win a Super Bowl," he said. "I think everything should be based around that.
"I feel like as long as we're getting Ws and I'm contributing, I feel like I'm going to do well."
And that upcoming match-up against seven-time Pro Bowler and two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Ray Lewis? Williams can't wait.
"To be honest with you, I've been a big fan of Ray Lewis," Williams said. "I love his attitude. I love the way he approaches the game of football. He's one of those guys who are born leaders. Lord knows, I'm definitely looking forward to this game. I definitely respect him, but I don't fear him."