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Michael Pittman vs. Cadillac Williams
Which Tampa Bay tailback will emerge as head coach Jon Gruden’s feature back?

The answer might be no one, and here’s why.

Dating back to his Philadelphia days with Charlie Garner and Ricky Watters, and in Oakland with Tyrone Wheatley and Napoleon Kaufman, Gruden has historically favored using two-halfback sets in his version of the West Coast offense, and he believes he has two players who can make up the “Rocket” backfield in Tampa in first-round pick Carnell “Cadillac” Williams and Michael Pittman.

While they should both see plenty of playing time this year, one of them will likely get the majority of touches, and it could be difficult for Gruden to decide whether it’s Williams or Pittman.

Williams is still attempting to digest Gruden’s complex system, but the team has been pleased with his ability to carry and catch the football, and recognize and pick up blitzes. But Williams will see a wide variety of defenses and blitzes during training camp and preseason, and how he responds in those situations will determine how much the Bucs lean on him to lead a rushing offense that finished ranked 29th in the NFL last season.

Pittman is coming off a career year in 2004, where he rushed for a career-high 926 yards (4.2 avg.) and seven touchdowns. He also caught 41 passes for 391 yards and three touchdowns. However, Pittman’s six fumbles, all of which were lost, have some considering him a liability and thinking he’s better off as the No. 2 guy.

Tampa Bay would ideally like to put both Pittman and Williams on the field at the same time since a two-back set often times keeps a defense off balance and makes the offense less predictable. If Williams can get ahead of the learning curve like wide receiver Michael Clayton did one year ago, Gruden will likely give him the majority of overall touches while Pittman gets the majority of his as a receiver out of the backfield.

Even if Williams doesn’t come around as fast as Clayton did, Pittman may just start the season as the primary guy while Williams is worked into the rotation until he shows he’s ready to be the main guy.

The competition won’t stop at Pittman and Williams. Tampa Bay believes its running backs position could feature what will arguably be the stiffest competition of any position in training camp.

There’s still a chance that Garner will be released before training camp, especially if he isn’t healthy by then. That said, several Bucs backs, including Earnest Graham, Derek Watson and Ian Smart, all of whom turned in very impressive offseasons, could make things really interesting for the No. 3 and 4 spots on the depth chart. If Garner does return to the team in full health, the Bucs will have some much-needed depth at the running back position.

If they both stay healthy, the two backs that will see the majority of playing time are Pittman and Williams, and Pittman has a slight edge to start on opening day because of his playing experience in the NFL and his familiarity with Gruden’s offense. Of course, that could change sooner rather than later, depending on how quickly Williams comes along.

ADVANTAGE: Michael Pittman


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