TAMPA — RB Cadillac Williams traveled a long, hard road during his career, and now it has led him out of Tampa Bay. But Bucs coach Raheem Morris said he will always be a sentimental favorite.
Williams, 29, agreed to terms with the Rams on Wednesday, ending a six-year career with the Bucs that was marred by two knee injuries.
"One of those guys who was definitely a team leader," Morris said. "He'll be missed around here. You want to talk about character — blown out knees, torn (patellar tendons), coming back two years in a row.
"It's the business. Those things happen. But you move on, and you embrace this new battle."
Williams, the fifth overall pick in 2005 out of Auburn, rushed for 434 yards over his first three games, setting a league record with three 100-yard games to start a career. He was named the offensive rookie of the year after rushing for 1,178 yards.
Williams was limited to 10 games over 2007-08 after sustaining torn patellar tendons in each knee.
Williams reclaimed his starting spot. But last season, after averaging 2.5 yards per carry through nine starts, he was replaced by rookie LeGarrette Blount and relegated to third-down back.
With Williams gone, veteran Earnest Graham will battle second-year pro Kregg Lumpkin and rookie Allen Bradford for the role as third-down back.
In St. Louis, Williams is expected to be the No. 2 running back behind star Steven Jackson. Terms of his contract were not disclosed.
"Certainly, we've always appreciated what Cadillac Williams has given the Tampa Bay Buccaneers," offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. "I hate to lose the player. I hate to lose everything he brought to the offense and really what he brought to the organization. But every player's time must end sometime, and those players will have to take his place. We'll just move forward."
SUITING UP? Re-signed free agents, including G Davin Joseph, T Jeremy Trueblood and LB Quincy Black, will have an opportunity to join their Bucs teammates at practice today.
But because the collective-bargaining agreement remains uncompleted, they have to wait until 4 p.m., and the Bucs have only a morning walkthrough and afternoon special teams practice scheduled.
C Jeff Faine said players probably enjoyed the extra time off but it might take them a few days to get used to being in pads and hitting again.
"How awesome is that? Sign a huge deal, in Davin's case, and give him a vacation," Faine said. "Those guys deserve it, though, because they had all that uncertainly last year.
"There's going to be acclimation for them because those first couple days, you have to get used to pads and moving around and getting hit."
Others players who can begin practice include: P Michael Koenen, LB Adam Hayward, K Connor Barth, QB Rudy Carpenter, CB Elbert Mack, S Corey Lynch, DE Michael Bennett and DT Frank Okam.
"It's fun. I've got all these guys walking around with scripts that can't do anything," Morris said. "I've got a bunch of extra coaches; those guys … mentoring people and telling them how to do it and deal with it."
FREEMAN STAYS HOT: QB Josh Freeman is threading the needle with passes, especially in the red zone. He completed a move-the-ball drill Wednesday by throwing touchdown passes to TE Kellen Winslow and WR Mike Williams.
"Josh really has come into his own," Morris said. "When the guys make mistakes, you can see them come into the huddle and correct themselves. Everybody kind of knows what's going on. We had a nice move-the-ball period. We were able to get up and down the field, walk down the length of the field and let those guys finish it. He's really playing well."
Rick Stroud can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.