The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are fairly healthy heading into their game against the Detroit Lions.
Bucs safety Dexter Jackson, who strained his hamstring aganst the Packers on Sunday, is questionable for Sunday's game versus the Lions. If he can't play, second-year safety Will Allen will start at free safety in his place. Guard Matt Stinchcomb (lower back strain) is also questionable.
Bucs rookie running back Carnell "Cadillac" Williams is listed as probable on the team's injury report with the same foot strain he played through last Sunday in Green Bay.
Williams, who has rushed for a league-leading 434 yards (4.9 avg.) and two touchdowns this season, was limited in practice on Wednesday, but head coach Jon Gruden suggested the rookie tailback would be ready to go on Sunday.
"He was limited, but hopefully he'll do what he did last week - do a little bit more tomorrow, a little bit more the next day and be ready to go," said Gruden. "I don't know, other than what the trainers tell me. He'll get some treatment and try to get himself ready to where he can play. If he can't he won't, but we've got him listed as probable. Hopefully it's something he can work through."
The Lions, on the other hand, are pretty banged up. Defensive end James Hall (groin), kicker Jason Hanson (hamstring) and safety Vernon Fox (elbow) are all questionable.
Detroit linebacker Teddy Lehman (knee) is probable while linebacker Alex Lewis (ankle) is doubtful. Fullback Cory Schlesinger (leg) and quarterback Jeff Garcia (ankle) have been ruled out for Sunday's game against Tampa Bay. Lions starting cornerback Fernando Bryant (shoulder) was placed on injured reserve earlier in the week.
CADILLAC WELCOMES THE WORKLOAD
Not only does he lead the NFL in rushing yards (434), Williams also leads the league in carries with 88, which averages out to 29 per game.
While some have questioned whether the rookie running back can hold up for an entire season while carrying the ball nearly 30 times per game, Williams suggested people were overreacting.
"I think people are [overreacting]," said Williams. "If I was sitting up here 230 or 240 pounds, it wouldn't be such a big deal. I guess with me being 210 pounds, it is a big deal to everybody. Can I hold up? It's definitely not a concern with me. I'm one of those players who wants to do whatever it takes to get the job done."
The Bucs don't feel they're giving Williams a workload he can't handle.
"I think it's for weak minds, really," Gruden said. "There have been a lot of serious injuries in this league already - Kris Jenkins, Takeo Spikes, Rodney Harrison. I mean, there have been a number of key injuries. I don't try to think about injuries, honestly. We're not going to put him in any danger. We love him like a brother. I'm just tired of hearing about it, honestly. We're trying to win games. The way we played the last three weeks, we've had leads into the fourth quarter, the clock is the enemy, we're going to run the ball a little bit. I'm not going to apologize for giving him the ball, okay? That's the way it goes."
At this rate, the Bucs are running the ball more than they're throwing it, which is a significant change from previous Gruden-led offenses that were pass-oriented in nature. But Bucs quarterback Brian Griese said he doesn't care how many times he's throwing the ball as long as the team is winning.
"The best feeling is being 3-0," said Griese, who is averaging 25 passes per game. "I've been around the league long enough and been on some losing teams. I've been on the other side of it, throwing the ball 45, 50 times and throwing for 363 yards and losing, and that doesn't feel good at all. Not only do you lose, but a lot of times you're really banged up, you're in the ice tub a lot more. I feel pretty good right now so, yeah, I'm happy."
Despite Tampa Bay's fewer passing attempts this season, second-year wide receiver Michael Clayton, who has caught a team-leading 15 passes, is on pace to catch 80 balls, which is the same number of passes he hauled in as a rookie.
Clayton said he's all for giving Williams the ball since the entire team is feeding off of his playmaking ability and success.
"I think we all rally behind him," Clayton said of Williams. "To me, it's not who's running the ball. I love the guy like he's my brother and I'll go all out and give him 100 percent of my effort because I definitely want to win. That's just what it takes to win. When we do that, with a team effort, at the end of the game we're all able to see that we all put forth effort and we got a victory."
BUCS LOOKING TO BUILD ON 3-0
Tampa Bay will attempt to improve its record to 4-0 when Detroit invades Raymond James Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Despite their 3-0 start, the Bucs are attempting to stay focused on the task at hand, which in this case is finding a way to defeat the 1-1 Lions, who are coming off of a bye week.
"The challenge for us is not to look at our team being 3-0," said Griese. "That's not the way I look at it really. I want to go out and win every week. I look at our season now and we're 0-0. The challenge for us, from a leadership standpoint and the veteran aspects of our team, is to continue to motivate the team like we are just starting out the season or like we are playing from behind. Going out every week and having that drive to win, and not resting on what we've done in the past is one of the biggest assignments for the leaders on this team."
Despite the fact that Tampa Bay has won five of its last six games vs. Detroit, the Lions have defeated the Bucs three times in Tampa since 1997. That's something Gruden reminded the team of this week.
"Watching tapes this morning on the Detroit Lions, they easily could be 2-0," said Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks. "They are a very talented football team, and we have our work cut out for us. Coach Gruden gave us a little history this morning, too. You know they have a good record here in Tampa, we've got to respect that. At the same time, we are just going to go out there and try to do better than we did last week. And make sure we're on top of the details, and make sure we get our corrections from last Sunday taken care of."
The players are also trying to avoid getting caught up in their own press clippings and hype. If they win on Sunday, the Bucs will be 4-0 for the first time since '97, but the team is simply looking at this contest as their next game.
"Well, the thing with that is to stay a consistent unit, and not worry about being 3-0," said cornerback Juran Bolden. "Not worry about being 4-0, and not let the hype, the pressing issues, get to us, I think we'll be just fine. It's very hard to go undefeated in this league. You are as good as your last game. You look forward to any challenge, and you keep on pushing and pushing."
The Bucs feel they'll continue to find ways to win games as long as they keep playing for each other and growing together as a team.
"Being 3-0 is great, but the most important thing is that we're playing together and as a whole team, everybody is gelling and everybody likes each other," said defensive end Greg Spires. "We don't have the guy who wants to stand out and play selfish. Everybody wants to win and when you're winning everybody is happy."
If you liked this story, be sure to get the inside scoop and more detailed information on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offseason plans regarding roster changes, free agency and the NFL Draft with a Pewter Insider premium subscription.
Visit BucGear.com today to view and choose from the largest selection of Tampa Bay Buccaneers merchandise in the world.