Kareem Huggins' seven-yard catch on third-and-four in the third quarter on Sunday was his first reception of the season. It will also be his last.
Huggins suffered a right anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear as he was tackled by New Orleans Saints linebacker Marvin Mitchell following that catch. As Buccaneers Head Coach Raheem Morris confirmed on Monday, Huggins will miss the remainder of the 2010 season.
Huggins, who had recently recovered from a groin injury suffered during the first game of the season, appeared in three games this season and recorded four carries for 11 yards to go with his one reception. He was the team's leading rusher during the preseason, carrying 25 times for 134 yards and an average of 5.4 yards per tote.
That performance and a strong showing in training camp helped the former undrafted free agent overcome the odds and win a spot on the Bucs' regular-season roster. He had also played in three of the last four games of the 2009 season after being promoted from the practice squad.
Huggins will be moved to injured reserve, which will open a spot on the Bucs' 53-man roster. While that spot may or may not be used to sign another running back, the team will definitely be looking for new contributors in the backfield. Tampa Bay currently ranks 27th in the league with an average of 91.2 rushing yards per game.
The Bucs had hoped to see how Huggins could figure into the solution on Sunday, though the quick lead built by the Saints forced them to throw more passes than originally intended. In the end, the mishap on his one reception erased that idea and also left the Bucs thin in the backfield against the Saints. Reserve backs LeGarrette Blount and Kregg Lumpkin had been included in the day's eight-man inactive list (in order to keep an extra wide receiver active) and versatile veteran Earnest Graham had left the game with a hamstring injury in the first quarter.
"That third back is usually a luxury," said Morris. "You go with the two backs and then, bang, right off the bat Earnest Graham gets a mild hammy, Kareem Huggins goes out for the season and now you're back to giving Cadillac way too many carries, which you didn't want to get into in the first place. You're getting away from your game plan, which was to get the explosive Kareem Huggins out there and let him make some dynamic plays for you."
It seems likely now that the Buccaneers will make some use of Blount and/or Lumpkin, with Huggins removed from the picture and Graham recovering from his own injury.
"You've certainly got to look into it," said Morris. "You've got to get some guys some carries. Yesterday, Huggy was the feature back for about five plays before disaster struck again. You still don't have that answer, so we've got to go out there and get it this week and get it from somebody else. It won't be Huggy, unfortunately."
Both Lumpkin and Blount joined the Bucs in the days following the final roster cuts on September 4, the former from the Green Bay Packers and the latter from the Tennessee Titans. As such, they have been working since Week One to absorb the Bucs' playbook, not having the benefit of an offseason to get comfortable in the system.
"I'm confident in those two young men and I'm really excited that we got them when we got them," said Morris. "You never know what's going to happen in this league and I'm glad we do have those two young men on our football team. They've been here for the last couple of weeks, learning our system, getting better and better every week. Now it might be time for a little bit of Lumpkin; it may be a time for a little bit of Blount; it may be time for a little bit of both of them."
Williams is the Buccaneers' leading rusher but has just 190 yards and an average of 2.5 yards per carry this season. However, Offensive Coordinator Greg Olson said the blame for the team's low rushing output should definitely not be aimed solely at Williams, and that a better downfield passing game would help reduce the number of eight-man fronts the Bucs are seeing.
"I'm not happy right now with where we're at in the run game, [but] to pin it all on Cadillac Williams I think is a major mistake," said Olson. "Cadillac is still Cadillac Williams. We're going to look at some things. I'm not making any excuses for anybody – we've got to do a better job of coaching, of blocking the eight-man front. I think that would make life a little easier for whoever that running back is.
"But we'll go back and look at it. Would we better off in this game with one of these other backs in these situations? You may be able to make an argument that maybe on this certain run, yes. But on some of the other runs you'd say no, it's not going to make a difference."
While he gained just 18 yards on 10 carries against the Saints, Williams also caught seven passes for a team-high 63 yards and provided outstanding blocking for quarterback Josh Freeman on passing downs. Despite dropping back 43 times and seeing innumerable blitzes from the aggressive Saints defense, Freeman was not sacked on Sunday and was rarely hit. The Bucs have said for weeks that they are looking for ways to reduce some of the rushing load on their veteran back, but they certainly intend to keep him intricately involved in their overall attack.
"The thing that gets lost with Cadillac is how well he plays on third down, how well he's been out there protecting our quarterback," said Morris. "Our quarterback doesn't get hit and that's phenomenal.
"Cadillac is an emotional leader on our football team. He goes out there and does a lot of great things as far as what we ask him to do. Can we get some better play out of some of the younger players in different situations? I agree. But you know what he's going to give you, you know what he's going to give you, you know he's going to protect your quarterback.
"We're having some positive runs and doing some positive things. But one small breakdown in any particular play can kill a play, and that's what's happening a little bit right now. The chances you do have to make plays, you're not making them, for whatever reason. You're getting tripped up, you're stumbling, something happens, you get a holding call – we've got to get all those things coordinated."