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Two years ago, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said he did not want to be in Tampa Bay if the offense couldn’t run the football better.

After watching his offense finish the 2006 season ranked 28th in the running game, Gruden might be out of a job if his offense can’t run the football better than it did last season.

Bucs running back Carnell “Cadillac” Williams earned NFL Rookie of the Year honors by rushing for 1,178 yards (4.1 avg.) and six touchdowns in 2005. But he was hindered by back spasms and poor and inconsistent play at the quarterback position in 2006, which resulted in Williams having a sophomore slump.

Williams rushed for just 798 yards (3.5 avg.) and one touchdown before a foot injury ended his 2006 season.

When he was entering the NFL out of Auburn, Williams’ durability was in question, and it’s being questioned again. He’s missed four regular season games due to injury in his first two seasons as a pro.

The former first-round draft pick needs and find his groove again if the Bucs offense is going to show significant improvement in 2007.

Williams also needs to do a better job of catching the football. While he’s hauled in 50 career passes in two seasons, Williams has dropped several passes, and ball security also became an issue in 2006 when he fumbled three times and lost all three of those loose balls.

If he is going to return to his rookie form, Williams will need help from his teammates, particularly his quarterback and offensive line.

Opposing defenses stacked the box and dared rookie QB Bruce Gradkowski to throw the ball last season, which hindered Willliams’ production seeing as Gradkowski struggled and the offensive line failed to dominate in the trenches.

That’s one of the reasons why the Bucs acquired two veteran signal callers – Jeff Garcia and Jake Plummer – this offseason. Having a healthy rotation of veteran quarterbacks should help Williams become a 1,000-yard rusher in 2007.

The Bucs could draft a running back this year, but Michael Pittman has quietly served as a serviceable backup over the past two seasons. In fact, he’s averaged over four yards per carry in four straight seasons.

Still, Pittman will be 32 in August, and the Bucs don’t feel Earnest Graham or Lionel Gates, who was recently arrested and may not even make it to training camp, are long-term solutions.

The Bucs likely will take a hard look at several running backs in this draft, including Lorenzo Booker (Florida State), Tony Hunt (Penn State) and Brandon Jackson (Nebraska), all of whom have at least one thing in common – they can catch the ball out of the backfield.

While he might be there when Tampa Bay picks at No. 4 overall, Oklahoma RB Adrian Peterson isn’t likely to become a Buccaneer. The Bucs like Peterson, but they already have a 2005 first-round draft pick invested in Williams.

If they don’t land a running back in this draft, the Bucs could sign a free agent running back, particularly former Virginia RB Arlen Harris, whom the team is quite fond of.

Leading the way for Williams and Co. will be fullbacks Mike Alstott and/or B.J. Askew. Jon Goldsberry appears to be the odd man out in this rotation unless either Alstott or Askew sustains a serious injury.

The Bucs re-signed Alstott, who decided to put off retirement for at least one year, during the offseason, but that doesn’t mean his role in Gruden’s offense will change for the better.

Alstott, 33, is considered a lead blocker and situational ball carrier. The Bucs are high on Askew, who is believed to be a better overall leader blocker than the “A-Train.”

 If that’s the case and Askew earns more playing time, there’s a chance Alstott’s role in Gruden’s could be more limited than ever. In fact, he could even be made inactive during some regular season games.

Of course, that all depends on how quickly Askew picks up the system and how much Alstott shows he has left in the tank.

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