RB Cadillac Williams has pulled and pushed a variety of objects while continuing his rehab during Bucs practices
As they prepare to break training camp, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers aren't quite ready to give recovering running back Cadillac Williams the green light.
But Williams isn't sitting on red, either.
"Right now we're still on yellow and we're still working hard," said Head Coach Jon Gruden of Williams' status. "There's a little bit of caution but boy, he's looking good and we're excited and happy for him."
The Buccaneers' fourth-year running back had an unproductive 2008 training camp – but only if one measures by practice snaps. Williams spent the entire camp on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform list, which made him ineligible to practice but hardly kept him from physically performing.
The 2005 NFL Rookie of the Year suffered a serious knee injury in the fourth game of the 2007 season, at Carolina. He missed the rest of that season and was expected to need a good chunk of 2008 to rehabilitate after surgery, too. It was no surprise that he was moved to the PUP list as camp began.
During most of the Bucs' camp practices, William worked on the sideline with team trainers, running through a variety of solo drills designed to get him back to the slashing, hard-charging running form that helped him rack up 2,184 yards and 10 touchdowns over his first 32 NFL games. The team watched Williams carefully and hopefully, without any set target date in mind but with the hopes that he could help the team this year.
Gruden personally looked in on Williams whenever he could. On Wednesday, the coach professed genuine enthusiasm regarding the gains Williams has made over the last three weeks.
"I've come out a couple times and actually played defense and chased him down and made him work to explode and cut," said Gruden. "He's really getting close. I can't tell you how excited we are about how far he's come in such a short period of time. I have to keep it in perspective, but we're going to be very smart here and I'm not going to do anything until the trainers give the green light."
Gruden stopped short of saying he believed Williams could return in time for the start of the regular season in September. By placing him on the Active/PUP list, the Bucs have kept open the possibility that Williams could start the season on the Reserve/PUP list, which would make him ineligible for the first six weeks of the season. Gruden didn't say that was the definite course of action, either. Essentially, Williams' rapid recovery while at Disney has left the team in a cautiously optimistic wait-and-see mode as they head back to Tampa.
"I'm not a doctor, I'm just telling you where we are right now," said Gruden. "He's made tremendous strides and I would think with Carnell anything is possible."
Tough Decisions Looming at Receiver
Wide Receivers Coach Richard Mann has spent the last three weeks making his men work as hard as possible. He's hoping they can return the favor.
Tampa Bay's wideouts can put the screws to their position coach simply by continuing to excel over the next three weeks. When it comes time to make the necessary roster cuts at the end of the preseason, Mann, Gruden and the rest of the team's coaching and personnel staffs could be faced with a very difficult task at the receiver position.
"I think we've got a good, competitive group," said Mann, assessing a receiving corps that consistently drew praise during training camp. "We've got size, we've got speed, we've got youth. We've got a lot of talent and it's up to me to get it out of them. When it's all said and done, I hope we have some hard decisions to make."
The Bucs have both of last year's starters returning from last year's squad in Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard, as well as two young players who are pushing hard for more exposure in Michael Clayton and Maurice Stovall. They've got a second-round pick with speed to burn in Dexter Jackson and a very intriguing reclamation project in Antonio Bryant. They've got Paris Warren, last year's August star, returning from injury and a number of promising young players like Brian Clark, Chad Lucas and Micheal Spurlock.
As a whole, this group has drawn quite a bit of praise during camp. However, the coaching staff is still waiting for several of the receivers to take it one step further and pull away from the rest of the pack. At this point, the Bucs' questions at the position are far from answered, although Gruden did point to one player who is beginning to make a move.
"No, I haven't seen enough," said Gruden. "Somebody's got to step up. Antonio Bryant is doing that. Antonio Bryant is the one guy I think from a talent standpoint and obviously now getting some experience in these last three weeks that is picking it up. But we need a couple more guys to do that, starting Sunday I hope."
Bryant caught three passes for 20 yards against Miami in the preseason opener on Saturday night and should see significant action again this weekend against the Patriots. He helped his cause for more playing time on Sunday by turning in one last good training camp practice on Wednesday morning.
"I'm really pleased with him," said Gruden. "He's got a lot of talent. If you just watch the raw talent, you see a guy with size, speed and excellent hands. He's learning two or three positions right now. He's cross-training, which is really hard. But I'm really impressed with him. He's a tremendous worker and he made some plays today again that are exceptional. We're excited about him."
More from Coach Gruden
Gruden touched on several other subjects after practice on Wednesday:
On if Jeff Garcia will be able to play Sunday: "It's hard to imagine that at this point. We are at Wednesday and he's still not able to move around at full speed. I'd like to see him start and finish a practice before we declare him ready to play."
On the Bucs' strong punt returns against Miami: "Well it's a good start. The punt return and kickoff returns are the first play of offense. We like to start outside our own 20 or 25-yard line. I think we were one of the top teams in football in starting inside our 20. Obviously our third-down defense, our punt return opportunities have to get better. We still have a ways to go on our kickoff return. We didn't function there as well as I'd hoped, although it was the first preseason game. That's got to be an area where we create field position. We do have some dynamic returners and guys with pride and hopefully it continues to get better and better. [Special teams coordinator] Rich Bisaccia is one of the best in football, in my opinion."
On RB Clifton Smith's play in Miami: "He proved he can run, he can catch, he can block, he can cover kicks. He's learned this tremendously difficult offense to learn. We're really pleased with his abilities that he put on tape. He didn't get nervous. He showed real poise. He's a football player. That guy did well for himself."
On T Luke Petitgout's prognosis: "Nothing really has changed. Here we are in the third week of training camp and you're talking about key football players – [RB] Cadillac Williams, Petitgout, Galloway and Garcia. We miss those guys, but the status hasn't changed – PUP. He doesn't seem close to coming back on the practice field, but he is working hard. It's a credit to him. It's a hard time for him."
On if there is a potential for Petitgout to start the season on PUP: "Yeah. Yes, there sure is. That's why he's not active at this point in time. I do know our training staff is working hard and Luke is working hard. The injury just isn't ready to go yet."
On LB Ryan Nece's camp: "I think he's had a consistent camp, as he always does. He's a guy that can play inside or outside and he's functional on any phase of special teams. He's a team guy and he's a reliable football player."
On WR Parris Warren's return from injury: "It is remarkable. He got hurt in the last preseason game and he's had some long, dark hours during the rehab, lonely times. But he's in a position now to reap the benefits of all this hard work and we need to see him do that come Sunday night."
On if he can sense the team is ready to get back to Tampa: "I think after 19 days here, let's put it in perspective. That's a long time. I think we all are. We've had a great experience here, once again. I just can't say enough about the hospitality and the facilities here at Disney. We're thankful for it, but there comes a time when you're ready to go home and see your family and see your bed. It's nice to get in your own bed at night."