After participating in limited action in practice on Wednesday, running back Cadillac Williams returned to practice on Thursday. Head coach Jon Gruden was encouraged by what he saw out of Williams on the practice field, but isn’t ready to put him back in the starting lineup just yet.

Williams was injured early in the third quarter in a 20-6 loss to the Seattle Seahawks last Sunday. The third-year running back took a shot from Seahawks linebacker Lofu Tatupu on the ribs of his left side. He didn’t return to the game after the injury and didn’t participate in team drills on Wednesday.

Gruden still holds out hope that Williams will be able to play against the New Orleans Saints in the home opener on Sunday.

“Yeah I’ve been optimistic that he will play and today was a good sign although we will see how he feels tomorrow when we practice again,” Gruden said.

Williams has never worn a flack jacket under his pads to protect any shots on his ribs, and Gruden made no indication that his injured running back wore one during practice.

“I don’t know; I don’t believe he did,” Gruden said. “He looked slim and lean out there so I don’t think he had any extra padding. It didn’t look like he did.”

If Williams can’t play against the Saints, the Bucs will look to running backs Michael Pittman and Earnest Graham to carry the load in the backfield. Graham and Pittman combined for 17 yards rushing on seven carries against Seattle. Pittman did most of his damage catching the ball out of the backfield with five receptions for 32 yards.

Graham had one reception for seven yards, but also fumbled on the play which thwarted a potential scoring drive.

Cornerback Brian Kelly, who left the Seattle game with a groin injury, didn’t practice for the second consecutive day. Gruden has given little information on Kelly’s injury, but isn’t ready to rule him out of Sunday’s game against the Saints either.

“I can’t really say doubtful, but this new injury list is new, you know what I mean,” Gruden said. “He is making progress and we will try to update him a little better tomorrow.”

Defensive tackle Chris Hovan didn’t practice on Thursday as he is nursing an ankle injury. Gruden hoped that Hovan would have been able to practice, but believes he will be ready to play.

“He did not practice today, we wish he would have practiced, but we do think he will be ready to go on Sunday,” Gruden said.

Defensive end Patrick Chukwurah (knee) still remains as the only player that has been ruled out of Sunday’s contest against New Orleans.

With the release of wide receiver David Boston on Wednesday, fourth-year wide receiver Michael Clayton will get another opportunity to flash some of the play that Bucs fans got used to in his rookie season. Clayton led the Bucs in 2004 with 80 receptions for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns. Since then, Clayton has battled through various injuries and has just one touchdown reception in two seasons.

Clayton had one reception for 11 yards in the 20-6 loss to Seattle last Sunday, but should see more balls thrown his way against the New Orleans Saints. Gruden has stated multiple times this week that he believes Clayton is on the right track to makes some plays in this offense.

“I think it is [a great opportunity for Clayton],” Gruden said. “He’s worked hard and he’s had couple of frustrating seasons with a number of injuries. He did do some very good things against Seattle last week and will get more looks against the Saints. He’s a fellow Louisianan… he’s on his way back, he’s on the right track and we need him to continue to move forward because he’s a very physical wide receiver that can certainly help us.”

Clayton feels comfortable with quarterback Jeff Garcia and is confident the veteran quarterback knows how to spread the ball around. With wide receiver Joey Galloway demanding attention, double coverage most of the time, Clayton will see a lot of one-on-one coverage that he can exploit.

“As a wide receiver, I think we are the only people on the field that need somebody else,” Clayton said. “So to definitely have a quarterback back there of Jeff’s caliber, it gives us an opportunity to make plays down the field. He’s not scared to throw it in there and he’s seen enough in us in the offseason to know that we will go up and make plays. He likes to do that so we will definitely take advantage of that.”

Quarterback Chris Simms, who himself was surprised that he wasn’t cut, has continued to work after practice to regain his throwing mechanics. Simms admittedly doesn’t want to be a distraction to the team, he just wants to continue to work so he can help the Bucs in any fashion.

“Am I the way I’m supposed to be yet? No. But I’m continuing to progress upward and that’s what I’m happy with,” Simms said.

Even though his improvements are in small steps, Simms has shown a little more zip on his passes, more importantly, the 15-yard out route. The out route for an NFL quarterback is one of the most important pass attempts that must be on time. If a quarterback is off at all on that pass route, cornerbacks in the NFL are quick enough to step in front of the pass for the interception. Simms is satisfied with the improvements that his body is making.

“Just the overall control of my body and being able to not throw all arm,” Simms said. “And get my body into it which made me what I was in the first place. So that’s what I would say is the biggest thing.”

Simms hasn’t experienced any soreness in his left elbow since his bout during training camp. He has been working on his mechanics since then so that he wouldn’t have any more soreness problems with his arm. Simms is working on different throws during his workout so that he can get the rhythm of throwing all his routes back.

“I just try to work different throws every day and kind of beat those into the ground until I feel comfortable with them,” Simms said. “Tomorrow I will try to do something else and then of course I have my rehab, things that I’ve been doing and they have been doing a good job of that with me.”

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