When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers re-signed Michael Bennett on Friday, they confirmed two things: Cadillac Williams is nowhere close to ready to play and Michael Pittman is headed elsewhere.
Williams was lost to a gruesome knee injury—a torn patellar tendon —last September, and there are rumors that his career could be over. Pro Football Weekly reported recently that Williams has lost a lot of weight/muscle, which means he has plenty of work to do to get back in playing shape. And that assumes he can even return this year from the nasty knee injury he suffered in Week Four last season against Carolina.
When Williams went down, Pittman took over. But he was hurt in the next game and remained sidelined for the next four games with a bad ankle sprain. Earnest Graham took over in Week Six, and a week later the Bucs pulled the trigger on a trade that brought Bennett from Kansas City.
Graham was very productive, rushing for 898 yards, averaging four yards per carry, and running for 10 touchdowns (tied for fifth in the league). Bennett didn't get as much action, but he did average a team-best 4.6 yards per carry on his 41 attempts as he learned coach Jon Gruden's West Coast scheme.
Bennett wasn't used a lot last season, but that should change in 2008. Although he is 29, Bennett doesn't have a lot of wear on the tires, and the former college sprinter brings excellent speed to the backfield -- an element that complements Graham's power running.
Bennett was a first-round pick by Minnesota in 2001 and made the Pro Bowl in 2002 after rushing for 1,296 yards. But injuries hindered him over the next three seasons, and the Vikings let him leave in free agency in 2006. He signed with New Orleans to back up Deuce McAllister, but then the Saints lucked into Reggie Bush in the draft and ended up trading Bennett to the Chiefs to back up Larry Johnson. Bennett didn't get much action there as Johnson set an NFL record with 416 carries in 2006.
Now it looks like Bennett might finally have found a place to stay for a little while. Assuming the Bucs don't re-sign Pittman, Bennett figures to spell Graham a bit more in 2008.
Meanwhile, the Bucs and Graham reportedly are talking about a new contract to keep him in Tampa Bay past 2008. He just turned 28, so he is in his prime. And he is running behind an improving, young line.
With the re-signing of Bennett, the Bucs know they have two guys who can carry the ball even if Williams and Pittman aren't around.