The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have more than one problem to solve once things start getting serious in July.
They have problems on the defensive line. They have problems at the linebacker position with anyone who isn’t named Barrett Ruud. They have problems at the quarterback position and don’t have anyone who can outrun former receiver Joey Galloway in a 40-yard dash.
Then there’s running back. Earnest Graham and free agent Derrick Ward are expected to be the mail carriers this fall even though Graham is little more than a versatile back-up plan and Ward is a huge question mark who gained 1,025 yards last year with the New York Giants, a team that ran that ball extensively and where it is tough in a 16-game season to not have a 1,000-yard rusher.
That brings up Cadillac Williams, the former Bucs star who ran for 1,178 yards in his 2005 rookie season, had his cleats sent to Canton after his third game, then fell under the radar. He ran for 233 yards in 2009 and averaged only 3.7 rushing yards last season.
Williams fell off the chart and his cleats from his rookie season are somewhere in the Hall of Fame basement.
Rookie coach Raheem Morris said he isn’t giving up on Williams even though he is little more than a blip on the Bucs radar.
“I’m feeling pretty good about him,’’ Morris said after a recent OTA. “I hope he’s ready by training camp.’’
Williams didn’t participate in the three-day voluntary min-camps the Bucs held in early April, but Williams appeared and said that his surgically repaired left knee was in decent shape. Maybe not the kind of shape that a 1,000-yard rusher might be looking for, but Williams said he should be ready for July and that Ward and Graham better be on alert.
“I’m doing good and coming along,’’ Williams said. “I am doing straight-ahead running and things feel a lot different.’’
Williams was thought to be the future of the franchise after his breakout rookie season, but the injuries left him as little more than an afterthought prior to last season. Former coach Jon Gruden ignored Williams and gave the starting job to Graham who had languished on the Bucs bench for seven years except for special teams opportunities.
Morris has said that Williams will get every opportunity to be an every down back if his knee is holding up.
That’s the problem. The knee. Williams is a side-to-side runner and never heads for the sidelines. Unlike a Walter Payton or a Franco Harris, Williams goes full-boar, taking hits that other running backs would dodge by darting toward the sidelines. It cost him early and often in his brief NFL career, but he says he won’t change a thing.
“That’s how I play and it’s different, but I am ready to play if I get the chance,’’ Williams said at the OTA.
Williams also said that he is ready for training camp and Morris added that he only hopes that he has another weapon in his arsenal.
“We’re keeping our fingers crossed,’’ Morris said. “I’m feeling pretty good about him.’’
One less problem is never a bad thing.