Tampa Bay running back Cadillac Williams could play his final game as a Buccaneer against the Falcons on Sunday. The former first-round pick is in the final year of his rookie contract and is scheduled to become a free agent in 2010. Williams said he'd like to stay in Tampa Bay and is loyal to the Bucs.
Some didn't believe they'd ever see Carnell "Cadillac" Williams play football again when he suffered his second torn patellar tendon injury in as many seasons during the 2008 regular season finale vs. the Oakland Raiders.
But Williams defied the odds by returning to the football field again, and he's had significant success as the team's primary ball carrier in Tampa Bay's offense.
Williams, 27, has carried the ball 191 times for 781 yards (4.1 avg.) and four touchdowns while catching 25 passes for 184 yards and three touchdowns.
Needless to say, Williams has served as an inspiration to the entire Buccaneers organization.
"Since he came here in 2005 he's been our engine," said Bucs head coach Raheem Morris. "He's kind of the juice we need. When you're on the practice field he's the one voice you hear .. when he wants you to. He's not a show, but he likes to practice and have fun. Being out there means a lot to him, and it definitely means a lot to him."
Williams, 27, has played in all 15 of Tampa Bay's games this season. He's on the verge playing the first full season of his five-year career when Tampa Bay hosts Atlanta at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday.
Morris admits that even he had some doubts as to whether Williams would make it back from the two devastating knee injuries, which is one of the reasons why the team signed RB Derrick Ward as a free agent during the offseason.
"I was surprised," said Morris. "I wasn't sure how much (work) we could give him. We eased him through the preseason and made sure everything was okay. Then he's had 15 carries in one game, 18 in another so we could see what he can take. All of those questions have been going on throughout the season. I'm sure in his mind he feels like he's a 20-carry back. When he has 22 carries I've heard we're undefeated. I'm sure he's always felt that way, but at the same time I'm sure he had a little doubt in his own mind. There's nothing wrong with that. He's absolutely fought through it and ran through it. He's a valuable teammate and person for this football team."
The 5-foot-11, 217-pound Williams isn't showing any signs of slowing down even though Tampa Bay's 2009 regular season will come to an end on Sunday.
In fact, Williams had his first 100-yard rushing game since Nov. 19, 2006 on Sunday when he carried the ball 24 times for 129 yards ((5.4 avg.), including a 23-yard touchdown run during Tampa Bay's 20-17 overtime win over New Orleans.
"We couldn't make any bones about it," Bucs offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Greg Olson said. "We took Derrick Ward thinking it would be a very difficult road for Cadillac to come back on. The one thing you learn is, ‘Don't doubt Cadillac Williams.' But also, once we got into the season our thought was to rotate him and keep him fresh so that he will be able to play throughout the season. We did that for part of the season, but Cadillac has shown some flashes of his rookie year in practice and in games at time. We felt real good about him. He's fresh and he's always asking for more carries and for more playing time, which you appreciate as a coach. It's a good problem to have."
Although he's back on the football field, there is a chance Sunday will be the last time Tampa Bay fans see Williams play in a Buccaneer uniform.
The former first-round pick's rookie contract is scheduled to expire, which means he would become an unrestricted free agent should a new Collective Bargaining Agreement be executed during the offseason.
Although his surgically-repaired knees have held up well, Williams said he wouldn't hesitate to forgo free agency if he were afforded the opportunity to return to Tampa Bay in 2010.
"I honestly feel better than ever," said Williams. "I feel fresh. I'm more patient, more confident, more appreciative and more humble as a player and person. I'm more dedicated to the game of football, and I'm an all-around better person because of the things I went through.
"I would like to remain a Buccaneer. The Bucs have been loyal to me and stuck with me. They drafted me, too. I appreciate everything they've done for me and them sticking with me. It will definitely factor in to me wanting to stay here."
The interest appears to be mutual as the Bucs wouldn't mind watching Williams' inspirational story continue to unfold in Tampa Bay.
"We addressed it today in our offensive meeting. I don't think enough has been made about what a significant event that we all had a chance to witness on Sunday," Olson said of Williams. "For a guy that hasn't had a 100-yard rushing game since 2006 and to go through what he's gone through, it's such a neat story for such a good person and a great football player. To go through what he's had to go through with both knees with the dedication and the rehabilitation that he's gone through over the last two years and to come back against that football team in the 15th game of the season really says a lot about him as a football player and as a person. I think it should be national news. You would like to see every night on SportsCenter about what a neat story it is. We're really proud of him and we're certainly happy for him. We're glad he's with us."
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