With the loss of starting running back Carnell “Cadillac” Williams with a torn patellar tendon in his right knee, the Bucs have spent the last 48 hours working feverishly to find a replacement either through a trade or free agency. After former Patriots running back Corey Dillon reportedly declined to meet with the Bucs, Tampa Bay looked within the organization, promoting rookie running back Kenneth Darby from the practice squad to the active roster on Wednesday.
Darby was signed as Williams was placed on injured reserve after having season-ending knee surgery in Birmingham, Alabama.
Darby, who was one of the final roster cuts before the regular season began, saw action in all four of the Bucs’ preseason games. He finished the preseason with 135 yards on 33 carries and one touchdown, averaging 4.1 yards per carry. The first-year player from Alabama also had five receptions for 36 yards.
Head coach Jon Gruden was critical, however, about Darby’s preparation for Sunday’s game on the road against the Indianapolis Colts.
“You are optimistic, but he’s got a long way to go okay, a long way to go,” Gruden said. “But he will certainly feel the wrath and catch up quick. He has a lot of things that he has to pick up in a hurry. He’s got to get ready to play potentially at any time. You never know when a guy gets ill the night before a game; you never know when an emergency arises. You never know what’s going to happen and we proved that last week in North Carolina. So he’s got to pick it up no question.”
Darby will serve as the third running back behind starter Michael Pittman and backup Earnest Graham. A seventh-round pick, the last pick of the 2007 NFL Draft for the Bucs, Darby rushed for 3,324 yards in four years with the Crimson Tide. He was only the third running back in school history to rush for over 3,000 yards in a career, joining current Seattle Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander (3,565) and running back Bobby Humphrey (3,420).
The Bucs also promoted tackle Dennis Roland to the active roster from the practice squad with the loss of left tackle Luke Petitgout, who will undergo season-ending knee surgery as well. He also was placed on injured reserve, which allowed the Bucs to bring up Roland from the practice squad.
Roland has been a part of the Bucs practice squad for the first four games and was on the taxi squad for the entire regular season in the 2006. Tampa Bay signed Roland, who played at the University of Georgia, after he was released by the Dallas Cowboys last season. Dallas signed the 6-foot-9, 325-pound Roland in 2006 as an undrafted free agent.
In addition to those roster moves, the Bucs signed tackle Ryan Gibbons, wide receiver Chad Lucas and running back DonTrell Moore to the practice squad and released cornerback Marcus Hamilton.
RUNNING GAME STEADILY IMPROVING The Bucs running game had little consistency in the first two games of the season, gaining 177 yards combined in a 20-6 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 1 and a 31-14 victory over the New Orleans Saints in Week 2. However, Tampa Bay’s running attack has showed its muscle in the last two weeks with 371 yards rushing in two victories over the St. Louis Rams and the Carolina Panthers.
The Bucs are ranked 8th in the NFL in rushing with 548 yards in four games and is averaging 137 yards rushing a game. Tampa Bay also has seven rushing touchdowns, which is tied for first in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys.
A big reason for the improvement is the addition of rookie left guard Arron Sears and steady play from right tackle Jeremy Trueblood. The Bucs have found running room whether it has run to the left or right side. Fullback B.J. Askew has also been a huge addition for the offense in the backfield, leading the way for anyone carrying the ball.
“B.J. Askew has been a big difference for us,” Gruden said. “He’s made a lot of big plays for us in between the tackles as a blocker and as I said earlier, our line is more experienced on the right side, been more technical on the left side and Arron Sears has upgraded us and helped us. So we’ve done a better job I think physically blocking, and assignment-wise we’ve been much better.”
Williams, Pittman and Graham gave Gruden a stable of weapons running the ball before Williams was lost for the season. Pittman and Graham must now carry the load, which isn’t anything new to Pittman, but will be an adjustment for Graham. Pittman was the feature back for the Bucs during their Super Bowl run in 2002, but Graham is seeing more action running the ball than he has in his four-year career.
“It’s not much different, I’m pretty comfortable with it [the spotlight on him],” Graham said. “We lost Cadillac [and] it’s a huge loss, but I’m pretty comfortable. I’ve been playing for two weeks now [and] getting quite a few carries, so I’m cool. We have a big game this week and I’m ready to go contribute.”
INJURY UPDATE Defensive end Greg Spires was limited in practice with an ankle injury and wide receiver Joey Galloway had his normal Wednesday off from practice, which is a routine he has been in so far this season. Cornerback Brian Kelly, who has struggled with a groin injury since Week 1, participated in practice. Kelly was inactive for Sunday’s 20-7 victory over the Carolina Panthers.
QUOTES OF THE DAY Gruden on second-year tackle Donald Penn playing against Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney a three-time Pro Bowler. “He’s not going into the fire, he’s going into a blazing inferno lets be honest. This guy is unbelievable I tell you. [Dwight] Freeney, my gosh, that’s how I would like to rush the passer. He’s really phenomenal and no matter who you have when you see Dwight Freeney and [Robert] Mathis you see the best there is. On the carpet and in the noise, they are phenomenal.”
Bucs linebacker Cato June on what he took from Coach Tony Dungy “His devotion to life has been great. Especially in this business, it is hard to see a man of his character stand up and live his life the way he does. As a man, you have to look at that and say, man I want to someday be like that, be able to live what I say, practice what you preach.”
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