The bad news is “Cadillac” might be parked in the garage when Tampa Bay takes the field at Raymond James Stadium to play the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.
Tests revealed that Williams has sustained bruised ribs, an injury that forced him out of Sunday’s game in the third quarter against the Seahawks and has him listed as questionable for the Bucs’ next regular season contest.
“We’re going to count on Cadillac playing, optimistically,” Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said Monday. “But realistically, we understand that he does have sore ribs and we will plan for the other guys to have a bigger role in the football game.”
Williams originally joined the Bucs as a first-round pick in the 2005 NFL Draft. He exploded onto the scene by rushing for 1,178 yards (4.1 avg.) and six touchdowns en route to earning NFL Rookie of the Year honors.
However, Williams suffered through a sophomore slump in 2006, rushing for just 798 yards and one touchdown while battling through back, rib and foot injuries. If fact, Williams has had trouble staying healthy since his playing days at Auburn, and he’s missed four of the 33 regular season games the Bucs have played since ‘05.
Williams rushed for 60 yards on 12 carries before leaving Sunday’s game with the rib injury.
The Bucs already have a contingency plan in place should Williams not be able to play vs. the Saints, which is a real possibility, Michael Pittman, would take Williams’ place at halfback and B.J. Askew would see extended playing time at fullback. The Bucs could also use Earnest Graham as a situational ball carrier and promote rookie RB Kenneth Darby from the eight-man practice squad to the 53-man roster.
“I think you have to,” Gruden said of having a contingency plan at running back. “Unfortunately, we’re good at one thing right now offensively, and that’s contingency planning. We’ve had a number of guys in and out of our lineup the last few seasons.
“If we don’t have Cadillac, we will have to use Pittman and Earnest Graham at tailback and you’ll see a lot more of B.J. Askew, who played pretty well, at fullback. Again, we’ll update you with his status here in the next day or so. At this point in time, he’s questionable for the game and there’s a chance he plays.”
The Bucs’ plan was to use Pittman more as a fullback this season, but that plan likely would be on hold if Williams is sidelined for any length of time.
Pittman is an experienced ball carrier and pass catcher. He’s rushed for 5,021 yards (4.0 avg.) and 21 touchdowns and caught 389 passes for 3,209 yards and eight touchdowns since entering the NFL with Arizona in 1998. Over the past three seasons, Pittman’s averages-per-carry have been 4.2, 6.2 and 4.9, respectively.
The Bucs feel comfortable having Pittman serve as the primary ball carrier in Gruden’s offense, which ranked 28th in the running department in 2006, but they’re still hoping Williams will overcome his Week 1 injury and find a way to play against the Saints.
“I don’t know a lot of backs that I’ve been around that ever feel good after the opening game of the season,” Gruden said. “They have sore elbows. They have sore ribs. They have sore backs. They have sore legs. It’s a violent profession. Those guys get hit. I don’t know if Shaun Alexander feels good this morning – he got hit a lot yesterday. If [Williams] can go, and he feels like he can go, then he’s going to go. And we hope that he can.”
The Bucs might also be without starting cornerback Brian Kelly, who suffered a groin injury in the second half of Sunday’s regular season opener. Like Williams, Kelly is questionable for the upcoming game vs. New Orleans. The Bucs won’t know more about the extent of Kelly’s injury for a few more days. Should Kelly not be able to play vs. the Saints, CB Phillip Buchanon would start in his place.
“It’s hard to say,” Gruden said when asked if Kelly sustained a torn groin. “Again, we didn’t get back until 3:00 a.m. These guys will get more specific evaluations later this afternoon. We’ll just be able to update you here in the next 24 hours when we see the guys and get the MRI results. Brian played very well in the first half, unfortunately, he didn’t finish.”
Defensive end Patrick Chukwurah missed the game vs. Seattle with a knee injury he’s been nursing since preseason and he has already been ruled out of Sunday’s contest vs. New Orleans.
Bucs wide receiver David Boston suffered a foot injury during pre-game warm-ups in Seattle. Although he was active for the game, Boston did not play vs. the Seahawks and is listed as probable for the New Orleans game.
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