Some thought Carnell "Cadillac" Williams' career was in jeopardy when he sustained a torn patellar tendon in Week 4 of the 2007 regular season. When he worked his way back from that ailment just to sustain the same injury on the other knee in Tampa Bay's 2008 regular season finale vs. Oakland, the skepticism associated with Williams' NFL playing career grew.
But no matter how many doubters – or knee injuries – Williams comes by, he keeps moving forward. His incredible determination led Williams to the practice field Saturday morning for the first time since sustained his second major knee injury in January.
"It felt great to be back out there and be part of the team again," said Williams. "I'm no longer the guy watching other people perform. I got a chance to go out there and compete. I'm blessed to be out there."
Williams, 27, was Tampa Bay's 2005 first-round draft pick. He earned NFL Rookie of the Year honors, but his career has been derailed by injuries over the past two years. In fact, Williams has started just five games over the past two seasons.
Although he's back on the practice field, Williams acknowledged he still has work to do.
"This is my first day back, and the heat is kicking and we're in pads, so I'm a little tired, but I think I did okay,' said Williams. "As far as health goes, I'm good. I have to get in better shape, but that's why I'm out here practicing and pushing."
According to Bucs head coach Raheem Morris, Williams did well on Saturday morning.
"He looked good," said Morris. "I was fired up about him. To get out there and get off running like that, I can't wait to see him this evening."
Williams, 27, said the second time around was much easier in terms of rehabbing his surgically repaired knee. His most recent knee injury wasn't as serious as the first, but Williams said he had a lot of confidence heading into this particular road to recovery.
"I had been through it before, and this injury wasn't as severe as the other one, so my whole mindset was different this time around," said Williams. "I knew I'd be back."
Williams has rushed for 2,417 yards (3.8 avg.) and 14 touchdowns during his four-year career. Now that the knee injury is behind him, Williams is focused on earning reps in Jeff Jagodzinski's offense, which features a crowded backfield that includes Earnest Graham, Derrick Ward and Clifton Smith.
"It's different, but my whole life I've faced steep competition," said Williams. "I faced it at Auburn and even before that. I'm coming out here and working hard as if I was the starter."
The 5-foot-11, 217-pound Williams had an impressive game vs. the Oakland Raiders before he sustained the knee injury in the regular season finale. Ironically, both of his knee injuries have occurred on his longest runs of the past two seasons.
While some may still have their doubts about Williams' ability to return to his rookie form, Cadillac certainly isn't one of them.
"I really felt things coming on and coming back in that Oakland game," said Williams. "I was back in that comfort zone. That's what helped me this time around in the rehab process. I knew I could get back. I was back, and now I'm back and good to go."