Over 400 days have passed since Carnell "Cadillac" Williams tore the patellar tendon in his right knee in September game at Carolina. The former first-round pick, fifth overall out of Auburn, has endured a long and grueling recovery and rehabilitation process. Some predicted he would never play football again.
But as of Wednesday, "Cadillac" is officially back, activated from the Reserve/Physically Unable To Perform list and back on the active roster. To make room for Williams in the 53, veteran running back Michael Bennett was released.
Many had labelled Williams a "bust" after his poor 2006 season and then the horrific injury after a promising start to 2007. His stats however, are good. In 32 games, Williams has rushed for 2,184 yards on 569 carries and 10 touchdowns. Behind Tampa's up-and-coming offensive line of young stars, much changed to the woeful 2006 version. Williams is well placed to get his career back on track.
Fellow backs Earnest Graham and Warrick Dunn have had success in this team, and at some stage this season, particularly as Tampa Bay push for the play-offs, Williams may find a key role in this offense.
"If we could ever get Warrick Dunn and Earnest Graham and Carnell Williams [together], that would be exciting for us," said Gruden.
"Obviously, this is a process and we'll take it day by day. As we gather more and more information, get evidence that he's 100 percent back, obviously his role will be determined by that."
The 2005 NFL Rookie of the Year made one of the most stunning debuts in league history that year when he ran for a record 434 yards in his first three games. He is almost starting all over again, just like in 2005.
"I do feel like I can come in and help the team," Williams said. "My role, how much I get to play, is up to the coaches. I'm going in with the view that I'm going to contribute. That's how I've prepared myself.
"I feel like I'm in good football shape. I've been practicing the last three weeks, and I feel really good about it. The number of carries is totally out of my hands. I'm just looking to contribute in any way that I can."
Head coach Jon Gruden remains cautious about throwing his star into the fray too soon.
"I don't know about game-day activations at this point," Gruden said. "This is a process, and right now I want to see if he can carry the ball 30 times again tomorrow.
"I just want to make sure everything is working like we think it is. We need to get his playing strength and stamina back. It's one thing to work out on your own, but he didn't have training camp, and so we're trying to simulate as much real football activity as we can for him."
"This guy is a hell of a back. This guy is a very good back," Gruden said. "We have film to prove that. We want him to be a big part of our organization. So if he's healthy, he's going to play here.
"I've put in a lot of work," said Williams. "I'm just excited. In these next few weeks we'll see what happens."
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!