TAMPA — A scar that begins on his right thigh and ends 9 inches later below his knee is the biggest reminder of the gruesome injury suffered by Cadillac Williams.
As the pain in his knee subsides, his ache to play again grows.
Williams, who is recovering from surgery to repair a patellar tendon torn in a game Sept. 30 at Carolina, took a break from rehab Friday at One Buc Place to discuss his future.
Flashing his trademark smile, Williams, 26 next month, said he plans to play in 2008.
"Oh, yeah, no doubt," he said. ''I definitely have a great shot. I feel good about it."
That wasn't the case six months ago, when he took a handoff and turned the corner running right. He slipped past a defensive end and headed upfield for 18 yards. All that stood between Williams and the end zone was safety Chris Harris.
"Basically, it was me and the safety one-on-one," Williams said. "So, my mentality is to score every time. I want to score. So I tried to cut back on him and just felt my knee buckle. And then once I tried to cut back and plant and my knee buckled, he hit me. The combination of the two, I guess, landed me here.
"At the time, I just knew it was painful. And I knew right from the jump, my kneecap wasn't supposed to be there. I laid down. I can remember it like it was yesterday. I remember thinking, 'It's bad.' "
The injury landed Williams on the operating table of Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala., where doubts immediately filled his head even as he was told it was a 9-12 month injury. He heard the doomsday reports that his career might be over after three seasons.
"You're laying in bed, you're doing rehab, and you can't move your leg," Williams said. "You get to thinking like, 'Man, maybe it is (career threatening).' But at the same time, I bounced back, did a lot of praying, and I feel like I'm going to be okay.
"My quads are my future, man. You look down and it's just flab. You hit it and it's just jiggling and you're like, 'Oh, my God, what's going on?' I'm slowly starting to get out of it."
Williams said he is working on building up his right quads. He is able to do light squats, run stairs at Raymond James Stadium, jog and do full-speed running in the pool.
"I'm actually starting to get active on this thing and put some pressure on it," he said.
The Bucs do not appear to be counting on Williams this fall — even if they're not ready to count him out.
Earnest Graham, who rushed for 898 yards and 10 touchdowns in Williams' absence, is expecting a contract extension. The Bucs re-signed Michael Bennett before the start of the free-agent signing period and signed former Falcons running back Warrick Dunn on Monday.
Andrews told Williams that other players, including Eagles running back Correll Buckhalter and Broncos linebacker Nate Webster, have returned from torn patellar injuries.
"There's been a couple guys who had this same injury who came back and have done well," Williams said.
Two weeks after surgery, Williams was joined by former Auburn teammate Ronnie Brown, who tore his right ACL playing for the Dolphins. Two weeks after that, Redskins cornerback Carlos Rogers, another former Auburn standout, tore the ACL and MCL in his right knee. All three found themselves recovering in Birmingham.
"(Brown) comes in and the first thing he says is, 'See, Lac, you done started all this,' " Williams said. "Two weeks later, Carlos comes in and the first thing he says when he comes out of surgery is, 'Man, Lac, look what you done started.' All of us had right knees. & We kept each other motivated. Seeing those guys and what they were going through helped me. I told them, 'I hate that you all got hurt. But now that you're all here, I'm glad you're here.' "
The most likely scenario for Williams is that he'll rejoin the team at midseason. But without benefit of training camp or a preseason, even that seems like a long shot.
"It's something that I don't feel is a career-ending injury," he said. "I'm showing up every day with my hard hat on and looking to get better and better.
"It's been an uphill battle.
"I'd love to be ready for training camp. Ready for opening day. Of course, that's my goal. But at the same time, we've got to be smart with it."
Bucs, SAFETY AGREE: Patriots free-agent safety Eugene Wilson agreed to a one-year contract worth $1.8-million, with $500,000 in guarantees. The Bucs plan to use him at cornerback in nickel situations. He could back up both safety positions. Wilson, 27, has started only 10 games in the past two seasons because of injuries. He has 10 interceptions since entering the NFL in 2003.
Around the league
VICK TRIAL: The trial of suspended Falcons quarterback Michael Vick on state dogfighting charges in Virginia was pushed back from April 2. No new date was set.
KELLY SIGNS: Former Bucs cornerback Brian Kelly signed with the Lions, days after he agreed to terms. And Detroit released safety Kenoy Kennedy.
OTHER SIGNINGS: Receiver Bryant Johnson agreed to a one-year deal with the 49ers. & Defensive tackle William Joseph joined the Raiders. & The Dolphins signed cornerback Nathan Jones and lost linebacker Derrick Pope to the Vikings.
Times wires contributed to this report. Rick Stroud can be reached at [email protected]