Word is injured running back Cadillac Williams was spotted last weekend hanging out in a trendy lounge at the Palms Hotel-Casino in Las Vegas, miles and miles from his laborious rehab in Tampa.
But before we proceed to rip the guy, let's get this much straight: He has earned it.
Williams has been working relentlessly for months in his effort to come back from last season's career-threatening knee injury, so, let Carnell have a few days in the carnal city.
Coach Jon Gruden certainly is satisfied with Williams' devotion to the process and is even showing what sounds like guarded optimism about the possibility he might return in 2008.
"He's doing great," a confident Gruden said recently. "I look out my (office) window every morning; I see him, right at the crack of dawn. I swear to that. Every morning I open up my window, and I look out there. As soon as the crack of dawn comes around, he's out there with a couple of trainers. He's way ahead of schedule, but we don't know how close he is to being ready to go."
Most of the optimism about Williams before now came from Williams himself, a man who admittedly is perpetually positive about any topic.
Before we continue, here's an important disclaimer: No one is counting on Williams lining up for the Bucs this season. There are too many unknowns when dealing with something as serious as a torn patellar tendon, and Williams is still a long way from even being cleared to practice.
But his potential return — if he comes back looking anything like his former self — could be a major boost given the team's dearth of dynamic offensive playmakers. The prospect is enough to leave you wondering, "What if?"
Now, there are those who are down on Williams, and his inconsistency gives you every right to wonder about the impact of his loss. The response from this end is that it's preposterous to dismiss what a healthy Williams would add. Despite Earnest Graham's surprise contributions, Michael Bennett's blazing speed and Warrick Dunn's elusiveness, Williams at 100 percent would be the most talented back on the roster.
He is not without his faults, of course. He remains an unreliable receiver, and he sometimes tries to make too much out of a play, which often results in a loss or minimal gain.
But from a standpoint of sheer ability, Williams is the guy with the most home run potential. Ironically, that was quite evident the play he was injured in against Carolina, with Williams running by and hurdling defenders in one the most exciting 18-yard runs you'll ever see. Put Williams at 100 percent behind the team's upgraded offensive line and you have to believe he instantly becomes a better back.
Williams isn't unique. With the unprecedented number of key injuries the Bucs suffered last season, this is a key time for many players.
Tackle Luke Petitgout (knee) is about to return to action; linebacker Cato June (broken foot) says he's ready to go; receiver Joey Galloway (shoulder surgery) should be fine; and guard Arron Sears (undisclosed injury) remains limited. When those players return to full strength, the Bucs are a different ballclub.
For his part, Williams thinks he can make a difference, too.
"It's a matter of when I'm going to be back," he said. "I know I'm going to be playing on this field again. I know I'm going to be productive. It's a long process, but I've come a long way."
Stephen F. Holder can be reached