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So who deserves the most amount of credit for the success rookie running back Carnell “Cadillac” Williams has found so early this season?

The humble Williams has been quick to recognize Tampa Bay’s offensive line for his success, which has included his record-breaking 447 yards rushing on 99 carries and two touchdowns along with three Rookie of the Week honors and one Rookie of the Month award.

Credit Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden for calling plays the plays that Williams has made the most of. You can, of course, recognize Williams himself for playing beyond his years.

While they have all received mentions, there is one Bucs player that hasn’t quite received the recognition he deserves.

Second-year wide receiver Michael Clayton has had a lot to do with Williams’ ability to splash onto the scene the way he has during his rookie campaign, and it’s not just his upfield blocking that has allowed Tampa Bay’s Cadillac to pull out of the driveway and accelerate at such an impressive rate.

After personally making a trip to see Cadillac at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. last January, Clayton walked away from that event having a pretty good idea who the Bucs were going to select with the fifth overall pick in the NFL Draft.

Clayton also attended USC wide receiver Mike Williams’ private workout at the University of South Florida a few months later, and he along with the rest of the Tampa Bay organization put on a pretty good poker face when discussing which player the Bucs might take in the first round.

“Yeah, I knew,” Clayton said when asked if he knew the Bucs were going to select Cadillac Williams well before the draft took place. “Obviously, we were definitely interested in Mike Williams, but as the situation came along it wasn’t likely. But I knew we were going to take Cadillac. I had talked to Coach Gruden a couple of times. He didn’t tell me directly, but he did put it out there that he really liked Cadillac Williams.”

Clayton had expressed excitement to the media when he openly discussed the possibility of playing with Mike Williams, but he had developed a friendship with Carnell Williams during their days of playing against each other in the SEC, and the Bucs’ need for a running back who could help ignite the 29th-ranked rushing attack in football made the idea of drafting Cadillac even more appealing.

“I backed the pick 100 percent,” said Clayton. “I played against the guy in college. I knew he one hell of an athlete. I knew he was a smaller guy, but he had a lot of success in the SEC. That says a lot about a player. A lot of times in this league you see the smaller players prevail because their hearts are bigger than their size. He’s definitely one of those guys. He doesn’t even think he’s smaller than those guys. He’s in the weight room taking care of his body. He can bench just as much as a big guy. His legs are strong and he’s fast. Cadillac is the whole package if you ask me.”

Not only did he support Tampa Bay’s decision to draft Cadillac, Clayton went out of his way to make Williams’ transition from Auburn to the NFL as smooth as possible.

Clayton knew exactly what Williams was about to encounter. He was, after all, coming off his own rookie season in which he hauled in a team-high 80 passes for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns.

So the first thing Clayton did when Cadillac arrived in Tampa was open up his home to the rookie tailback. The faster Cadillac could get acclimated to Tampa, the quicker he would be able to digest Gruden’s giant playbook.

“My main thing was to just make sure he was comfortable,” Clayton said of Williams. “Obviously, if the team is taking a guy in the first round they’re really thinking highly of him, just like me. When I was finally able to get comfortable in terms of getting settled in the house, getting food and just having some type of stability. That’s when I really started reaping the benefits of getting acclimated to the area. I just wanted to bring Cadillac into that, but right away… on draft day. Just being a team player, to have him be more comfortable than I was, I figured that would just help him become a better player, and earlier than I was. If we could get that out of our running back, which we needed so badly, it’s always a good thing for our offense.”

So how much has Clayton’s generosity played a role in what Williams has done through four regular season games?

“That definitely helped a lot because it just made my transition to the NFL that much easier,” Williams said of the help he received from Clayton. “There were a lot of things that I had to be out here on the field worrying about, but Mike was able to tell me a lot of things and show me a lot of things to help me along in the process. Mike has played a big role in what I’ve done on and off of the football field, and I’m always thanking him for it.”

Clayton wanted to help his friend and new teammate get accustomed to life in the NFL, but how he went about doing it was in large part inspired by what one of the Bucs veteran players did for him during the 2004 offseason.

“When I got here I had “Booger” here,” Clayton said, referring to Bucs defensive tackle Anthony McFarland, who also played collegiately at LSU. “I didn’t really have anyone here, and Booger offered to let me stay with him. He helped me get to know Tampa. He was the guy that basically played the big brother role for me, and he was.”

Williams didn’t waste much time finding a home for himself. Shortly after moving in with Clayton, Cadillac purchased his own house. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re no longer hanging out under the same roof together.

“He has his house, but we’re still just like roommates,” said Clayton. “He’ll be by my house after practice. He’s got his new Cadillac. I told him not to pull it in my driveway if it doesn’t have rims on it.”

So who will carry the torch as big brother next year for Tampa Bay’s 2006 first-round draft pick? Clayton said he wouldn’t mind lending a helping hand to another new teammate and friend again but wouldn’t rule out the possibility of Cadillac picking up where he left off.

“I don’t know,” said Clayton. “I still have that role. I’ll still be that guy. We’ll just have to see who it is. If we get an offensive lineman, Cadillac might want to take over.”

While he has received praise from Gruden and Williams for his ability and willingness to lay out defenders with his downfield blocking, Clayton suggested he’s still determined to do whatever it takes to help Cadillac and the Bucs succeed. So far, his determination is definitely helping the Bucs, who are 4-0 for the first time since 1997.

“Somewhat,” Clayton said when asked if he’s played a big role in helping Cadillac have the type of success he’s had on the football field during games. “I’m just doing my job. I think he would say that, but as a friend. It’s bigger than just football. We have a friendship that’s going to last a lifetime. To be able to play against him in college and then have him as my teammate in Tampa, it’s great. The friendship we have now, he knows that I have his back and he’s got mine. It’s bigger than that. It makes things more comfortable and helps bring more camaraderie to the team.”

Many pundits thought the Bucs would be hard pressed to draft a rookie this year that would have the type of success Clayton had in 2004. To the Bucs’ credit, they’ve hit the lottery twice, but the coaching staff is just as quick to credit both Clayton and Cadillac.

“That’s the thing about Michael and Carnell – they’re two very mature kids,” said Bucs running backs coach Art Valero. “They don’t do a lot of messing around. They are very serious about this sport. That’s what Coach Gruden loves about both of them. They really love this game, and there aren’t a lot of guys you see around this league that truly love football.”

Yes, Clayton does deserve a lot of credit and praise for helping Williams come along so quickly in the NFL, but Gruden suggested that no one should take anything away from Cadillac.

“I think Clayton did a lot for him, but I also think you’re talking about a completely different bird, one that I haven’t run across in the last 10 or 15 years,” said Gruden. “I give Clayton credit, but you’ve got to knock on No. 24’s door. He’s something else.”



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