The 2009 preseason has been underway for two weeks, but Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Carnell "Cadillac" Williams has attempted to patiently wait to make his debut.
That wait will end Thursday night when Williams suits up to play in Tampa Bay's nationally televised home game vs. in-state rival Miami.
Williams, 27, participated in training camp despite undergoing surgery to repair a torn patellar tendon injury he sustained in the 2008 regular season finale vs. Oakland on Dec. 28.
The knee injury was Williams' second in as many seasons. In fact, the former 2005 first-round pick has played in just 10 games over the past two seasons due to the two major knee injuries.
Although he was deemed completely healthy before and during training camp, Bucs head coach Raheem Morris opted to keep Williams on the sideline for Tampa Bay's first two exhibition contests as a precaution.
"It's awesome," Morris said of Williams' return to game action. "I'm so excited to get Cadillac back, especially to see him hit and explode through holes. We've seen him make cuts and dynamic movements in practice. He looks like the old Cadillac."
He normally lets his play speak for itself, but Williams admits he tried to talk his way onto the football field for Tampa Bay's second preseason game of the year, which was in Jacksonville last week.
"It's Coach Morris' decision," said Williams. "I tried to go to him a couple of times and tell him I could play. Last week, Earnest [Graham] was a game-time decision and then we found out he wasn't playing. I went to him and said, ‘Hey, we've got one down. I'm ready to go in if you need me.' He said, ‘Nah, next week.' I understand, but if it was my decision I would have played."
Not only will he play, Williams is scheduled to start the game and see significant playing time vs. the Dolphins. Morris plans to have Williams, Derrick Ward and Earnest Graham share the workload in a 2-2-1 format, which means Williams and Ward likely will play the first two series of the game while Graham plays for one series. Return specialist Clifton Smith and fullback B.J. Askew could also see some action at running back.
"I want to go 2-2-1 and I want to keep that rotation if I can throughout the season," said Morris. "We'll have some different back situations. I'm going to mix it in, and the person getting the one [series] will make it up in the situational play. I'll try to use that format in the game. [Cadillac is] getting the first two [series] in this game. I'm looking forward to seeing him do that."
Even when he was healthy, Williams traditionally received a limited number of carries in preseason games under former Bucs head coach Jon Gruden.
The 2005 NFL Rookie of the Year award winner believes he needs a healthy workload in order to get re-acclimated to game action.
"I do need some work," said Williams. "I need to get the timing of the offense at full speed and take some licks. Thank God I'm getting the chance to go through training camp and play in preseason, unlike last year when I was just rehabbing and rehabbing, and then getting thrown in the games."
As if the team wasn't already excited about Williams' return, Morris has a special team meeting scheduled for Wednesday night. He plans to show his team a highlight reel that contains plays made in the running game by Williams, Ward, Graham and Tampa Bay's offensive line.
"I think it's going to get those guys, and our whole team, really excited," Morris said of the meeting and highlight reel. "The tape is really impressive and shows what we're capable of doing."
Given the severity of his knee injuries, many believed Williams' NFL career was in doubt, but he continues to prove skeptics wrong. He hopes his injuries are a thing of the past and is focused on proving he's still capable of running the football in Tampa Bay.
"I've taken some shots in practice and I've been banged around," said Williams. "I have participated in everything except for the games. Trust me, once Thursday gets here the last thing on my mind is going to be my knees."
INJURY UPDATE Several players were held out of Tuesday afternoon's practice at One Buc Place, including wide receivers Antonio Bryant (knee surgery), Dexter Jackson (ankle) and Michael Clayton (hamstring), kicker Matt Bryant (hamstring), running back Kareem Huggins (knee), tight end John Gilmore (calf) and cornerback Elbert Mack (ankle).