Third-year running back Carnell Williams played more like a broken down Sedan in 2006 than a supped-up Cadillac. The Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2005 struggled with injuries and an inexperienced offensive line last season, gaining 798 yards and scoring just one touchdown. Back spasms and a nagging foot injury slowed Williams and played a big part in the lack of production from the offense's running game, which ranked 29th in the NFL last season.
Williams, however, comes into this year’s training camp healthy and ready to prove that he is the running back that gained 1,178 yards in his rookie season and not so much the inconsistent back that rushed for just 798 yards last season. Whether it was a sophomore slump or playing behind a rookie quarterback, Williams showed little signs of being able to handle the majority of the carries at running back. Williams isn’t worried about the workload as much as he is just looking to get better with every carry and stay healthy.
“I feel good, actually I’m 110 percent. I’m fine, foot, back, head whatever,” Williams said. “It is football so you are going to get bang up and are definitely going to be sore, but at the same time it’s a physical sport you just have to keep playing through it.”
Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden spoke earlier in training camp about wanting to get Williams more involved in the passing game this season. Williams has never been known for his catching ability out of the backfield, but has received plenty of opportunities in the past.
Williams has 50 receptions for 277 yards in his two seasons in the Bucs backfield, but hasn’t scored a receiving touchdown. Despite his lack of production catching the ball out of the backfield, Williams welcomes the challenge of getting more of a role as a receiver.
“I do welcome that challenge and hope that happens,” Williams said. “That’s something that I could be productive at and could be really good at I just need the opportunity.”
The Bucs offensive line struggled to open any kind of running lanes for Williams, Michael Pittman or anyone else who ran the ball for the Bucs last season. With rookies Davin Joseph and Jeremy Trueblood playing on the right side and a revolving door at guard on the left side because of injuries, Williams never got into a rhythm running the ball. The only constant on the offensive line was John Wade at center and Anthony Davis at left tackle. Good offensive line play usually predicates consistency and the Bucs had little of it on the offensive line.
Williams’ durability has also been questioned in his first two seasons after missing two games apiece in 2005 and 2006. Even when he was at Auburn, Williams shared the backfield with Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown for two seasons despite being the feature back in the Tigers offense. However, since being drafted by the Bucs in the first round in 2005, Williams has averaged more than 200 carries a season.
Pittman, however, has carried the ball 120 times combined over the last two seasons, proving that Williams has been responsible for carrying the load of carries in the backfield. Even though Williams isn’t looking to prove his durability, his critics have questioned that aspect of his game during his short career in the NFL.
“I don’t know if durability is an issue, but I have actually been getting that my whole career,” Williams said. “I don’t know if it’s because it’s my size or what it is, but every little injury or knick I get it always comes up ‘He can’t carry the load, this and that’. I’m wouldn’t say that I’m out to prove that I can do it because I know I can and I will do it.”
Williams could be the biggest benefactor from the offseason signing of quarterback Jeff Garcia. Garcia should take a lot of pressure off the shoulders of Williams and soften some of the eight and nine men fronts that the Bucs offense saw on a regular basis last season.
Garcia will also have an impact on the success of Williams catching the ball out of the backfield. Philadelphia Eagles running back Brian Westbrook had 77 receptions last season and was a key target for Garcia once he became the starter. Williams and Garcia have already talked about finding him more out of the backfield on pass plays.
“When Jeff came in he kind of hinted to me at one of the first OTAs telling me to stay alive,” Williams said. “He told me if a play every breaks down that he loves to throw to the back out of the backfield so with him just saying that makes me a happy guy.”
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