In the early morning, before most players had downed their first cup of coffee, Cadillac Williams was busy lifting or running and cutting around fallen tackling dummies as if they were imaginary defenders.
Day after day, for 13 months since suffering a devastating knee injury, Williams worked with the hope of rejoining his teammates and restarting his career.
One morning, running backs coach Rich Bisaccia sneaked out to the practice field armed with a camcorder and privately videotaped Williams' workout.
"Then when we have our team meeting, he says, 'Hey, you want to see what Cadillac is doing? Here's what he's doing,' " receiver Michael Clayton said. "He let the whole team see. It is the little things that keep players wanting to get better."
On Wednesday, Williams cleared a big hurdle when he returned to practice with his teammates. He officially arrived during the morning walkthrough when coach Jon Gruden called out the formation with Williams in it.
"It was a play: 'Tiger (formation), Carnell Williams,' " Clayton said. "Everybody went, 'Yaaaaaa!'
"It's a wonderful feeling to have him back with the team. We want to see him back."
Williams, 26, who tore the patellar tendon in his right knee against the Panthers in September 2007, has been on the physically unable to perform list. He has at least three weeks before the team has to decide whether to activate him to the 53-man roster or place him on injured reserve.
Williams has no doubt that he will play again this season.
"I said way back I definitely felt like I was going to play," Williams said. "It's here. Now it's just a matter of me going out and doing it."
Williams said his biggest obstacle to overcome is his fear of cutting and receiving contact in live action.
"To me it's more in my mind now, just to know it's okay," Williams said. "I've already put it through a lot. I'm able to do everything without a problem. Now it's just me overcoming it mentally."
Clayton is probably one of Williams' closest friends on the team. The two lived at Clayton's house for a while after Williams was drafted with the fifth overall pick by the Bucs in 2005.
The toughest part of Williams' rehab was shortly after he had surgery in Birmingham, Ala. At the time, there was talk that the injury might be career-threatening.
"I think that was probably his lowest moment. It was very scary," Clayton said. "As a good friend of his, we talk every day about the way to go about life, because we know we can get hurt at any time. Just to sustain an injury like that, to go through it mentally, everybody felt for him. But he did what he was supposed to do. He worked hard. He did extra work and got back into it. Just to see a guy rewarded for hard work feels good and the whole team feels it."
If Williams can come back this season, it's unclear what his role would be. The Bucs primarily use Earnest Graham and Warrick Dunn at tailback. Running back Michael Bennett has five carries all season.
Injuries and what transpires with the roster over the next three weeks could impact the decision to activate Williams.
"This is the beginning, and the weeks will tell how I recover from practice and how it goes," Williams said. "It's not like I'm going to practice today and they're going to throw me in Sunday and hand me the ball."
Gruden said Williams' stamina and strength will need to improve and the team did not even wear helmets during Wednesday's practice, so contact will come later. But he praised Williams' work ethic.
"He's pushed himself like nothing I've ever seen," Gruden said. "He's got a chance to be ready tomorrow, knowing him. He's in great shape but he's got to come back to playing speed and get re-acclimated to football.
"I was very happy for him. I was emotional. You take football away from Cadillac Williams, you take a lot of him away."