Tampa Bay running back Cadillac Williams was one of the few bright spots from the Bucs' 0-4 start during the first quarter of the 2009 regular season.
Williams, who miraculously recovered from two torn patellar tendon injuries in as many seasons, currently leads the Bucs in rushing with 191 yards (5.0 avg.) and one touchdown. He also ranks second on the team in receptions with 12 for 81 yards and one score while sharing the workload with fellow running backs Derrick Ward and Earnest Graham.
"To see him play like this isn't shocking me," said Bucs head coach Raheem Morris. "It's more a sigh of relief and happiness for him that he's fought through the knee injuries and the pain, and he's playing well. He's one of the most mentally tough guys on the football team."
Tampa Bay's offense ranks 27th in the NFL. After rushing for 174 yards vs. Dallas in Week 1, the Bucs ground game stalled, rushing for just 57 and 28 yards in losses to the Bills and Giants, respectively.
Williams rushed for 1,178 yards (4.1 avg.) and six touchdowns en route to earning the NFL Rookie of the Year award in 2005, but the former first-round pick produced just 1,239 yards rushing and seven scores from 2006-08 due to injuries.
But Williams helped get the Bucs ground game back on track in Washington last Sunday, rushing for 77 yards on 16 carries (4.8 avg.).
That production, along with second-year RB Clifton Smith's fumble late in the fourth quarter that ended any chance the Bucs had of winning their first game of the year, prompted Bucs offensive coordinator Greg Olson to suggest Wednesday that he might consider making Williams the feature back.
"We're going to get him more involved, and that's on me. Clifton has been our guy because he's been a threat as a wide receiver and often times in those situations the back gets out and he's involved with that," said Olson. "He's been our guy going back to last year. Cadillac has proven that he understands the pass protections and he's a real solid pass protector and he's really developed as a receiver. We went into the season with the mentality of ‘Let's work Cadillac in, maybe we can rotate him in' but as good as he's looked here early on in the season I think it's time that we become more committed to Cadillac Williams as a full-time guy."
The Bucs' decision to rethink its 2-2-1 approach in the running game is news to Williams.
"To be honest with you, I wasn't informed," said Williams. "It's like what I've said before. It doesn't matter whether they want to rotate, because we have two other guys and Peanut, or they want me to carry the load. Whatever they ask me to do I'm fine with.
"We're still repping everything the same in practice. Even if it went like that, those guys would still get their touches and carries. But I haven't seen much difference in practice."
Williams has started three of Tampa Bay's four regular season games. Ward got the other start against his former team – the New York Giants, but missed the game vs. Washington due to a knee injury.
Ward has practiced two straight days this week and should be ready to go vs. the Philadelphia Eagles, who have the seventh-ranked defense in the NFL and are a team Ward is familiar with from his playing days in the NFC East division.
"I'm good. I'm ready to go against my old foe in Philadelphia," said Ward. "It was just a little stiff and sore. It was a game-time decision, but I wasn't able to go. But I'm ready to go now.
"Philadelphia is a great zone blitz team. They're starting to do a lot of penetration of the ‘A' gap with the linebackers. It's going to be a challenge for us. It's going to be a challenge. I've been telling the guys all week that this might be the best defense we face all year."
The Bucs are working to build on the success the offense had running the ball last week. That won't be an easy task against the Eagles defense.
As they prepare for Philadelphia, the Bucs are giving serious consideration to scrapping their original running-back-by-committee approach in an effort to feed Williams the ball more.
"When Earnest deferred his carries to [Williams and Ward] we really never hit the 2-2-1 [plan]. It was really just 2-2," said Morris. "Ever since then we've then we've had some injuries in that room, so it's been 2-2. That's kind of where we've been going and where we're at right now.
"Maybe Cadillac distinguished himself more against Washington to where it could be 3-2. We'll have to go out there and see what it looks like and see what Cadillac can handle, but at the same time be smart with him. I'm not going to run him into the ground or call a run for him when I see him with his tongue hanging out, especially with the studs I have on the bench in Earnest Graham and Derrick Ward. I've got guys that can go in there and do the job effectively."
Morris has deemed his stable of running backs the most unselfish group of players he has on Tampa Bay's roster. That includes Williams, who has no preference in terms of how he's used in the Bucs offense.
"I can come in and carry the load or share the load," said Williams. "I'm good with either one. I'm just blessed and fortunate to be out there."