WR Karl Williams will miss the rest of October and probably some of November
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, enduring a two-game losing streak, feel they need to right their ship, and soon. They'll have to do it without the help of fifth-year WR Karl Williams.
On Monday, Head Coach Tony Dungy confirmed that Williams will miss four to six weeks due to a left knee injury suffered during the Bucs' 20-17 overtime loss at Washington. Williams was the team's primary punt returner and had long been a valuable asset as a third-down receiver.
Williams' injury was one of two deemed noteworthy by Dungy on Monday.
"We only have two significant ones," said Dungy. "Karl Williams has an MCL injury that probably will be four to six weeks, and Jamie Duncan had a concussion. Depending on how (Duncan) goes the rest of the week, he has a chance to miss this game, also. Those are the two tough ones. Everything else is the kind of minor bumps and bruises that you expect from a real physical game."
Williams suffered the injury in the third quarter during the last of his three punt returns against the Redskins. He fielded a Tommy Barnhardt punt at the Bucs' 18-yard line, midway between the right hash and the sideline, and started left across the field. When it became clear that path was blocked, Williams tried to reverse fields but ran into another wave of Redskin tacklers. The result was a loss of seven yards and an awkward tackle.
A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test was performed on Williams' knee Monday morning and he was diagnosed with a strained medial collateral ligament. In this case, the diagnosis of 'strain' indicates a partial tear; with the MCL, even a partial tear takes a significant amount of time to heal.
Before his injury, Williams had returned 16 punts for 124 yards, an average of 7.8 yards per return. In five seasons with the Buccaneers, Williams has returned 105 punts for 1,232 yards, averaging 11.7 yards per runback. Both his returns and yardage totals are second-most in franchise history to the numbers posted by Danny Reece (222-1,556) from 1976-80. Williams' career average is second on the team's all-time chart to that of teammate Jacquez Green (12.4).
Green actually took over for Williams on punt returns for the final quarter in Washington, gaining one yard on two returns. On Monday, however, Head Coach Tony Dungy indicated that the job might go to a third player during Williams' absence.
"There's a good chance that Andre Hastings might be returning (punts)," said Dungy. "He's going to be up for Karl and he did a good job returning in the preseason. We'll work with that this week. And depending on what returns we have up, we'll see who's in there."
Hastings has been inactive for the Bucs' first five regular season games, and he has recently been recovering from an injury of his own. Before Tampa Bay's week-four bout with the New York Jets, Hastings sustained a compound dislocation of the index finger on his right hand. He did practice last week, however.
Before this stroke of misfortune, Williams had missed just four games due to injury in his NFL career. A foot strain midway through 1999 cost him three weeks of action and a rib strain in December of 1998 had him on the bench for one contest. Upon his return, Williams will be on the verge of another milestone. He has 99 career receptions. With one more, he will become the first player in team history to have at least 100 catches and 100 receptions.
The Bucs will be eagerly awaiting the return of this gritty and versatile player. Including punt and kickoff returns, rushes and receptions, Williams has 3,191 all-purpose yards as a Buccaneer.
Duncan would also be a significant loss for the Buccaneers, but he is not expected to miss any more than one game if he is forced to the sideline. In that case, the Bucs would turn to a rookie in the middle.
"If Jamie can't go, Nate Webster will play," said Dungy. "Nate will be fine. We'll have to cut back on his special teams a little bit if he's playing all the time. That will mean we'll get to dress one more guy. Who that will be, I'm not really sure at this point, but we'll be able to give him some relief."