TAMPA — If Cadillac Williams has learned nothing else in his six seasons, of this he is certain: You can take nothing for granted in the NFL.
After experiencing everything from breaking long-held rookie records to two career-threatening knee injuries, the Bucs running back is a realist. Now his reality is that his role with Tampa Bay is almost certain to change drastically.
He can see it by the way the Bucs continue to prepare LeGarrette Blount and Kareem Huggins for more extensive roles, beginning Sunday at Cincinnati. Blount continues to be involved with the first-team offense in practice after taking all the starting reps last week, and Williams knows what it means.
"You can tell where the team is heading," Williams said. "It's not like they personally came to me, but you can just tell how things are headed.
"It's part of the business. You may not agree with it, and you may not like it. But I'm six years into this thing, so these days, nothing surprises me, to be honest with you."
When Williams is honest with himself, he knows his future with the Bucs is uncertain, at best. When Williams' rookie contract expired after last season, the Bucs signed him to a one-year restricted free agent deal for $2.3 million. He'll be a free agent after the season and will turn 29 in the offseason.
When asked if he thought the Bucs were preparing for a future without him, Williams didn't dodge the question.
"Of course, that is a possibility," he said. "You know (the team) is looking beyond this year, which is cool. I'm just going to prepare myself and go out there on Sunday and continue to put things on film."
Williams is off to arguably the worst start of his career, averaging 2.5 yards on 55 attempts. The Bucs have maintained that Williams needs to share the load with other backs, something the coaching staff thinks might make him more productive and enable him to successfully make it through the final 13 games.
"I still think he can lead the team in carries," general manager Mark Dominik said Tuesday. "But I think every back needs a break, and up until this week, Cadillac really hadn't had a lot of breaks. He hasn't been sharing the load."
But there's a recognition that if others perform better, Williams' share of the carries could be significantly reduced.
"I think you're looking for a way to make it all work together," Dominik said. "I think Coach (Raheem) Morris hit it right on the head. If a guy gets really hot, then he becomes the guy."
It was Morris who offered an endorsement of Williams, even as the team's actions suggest it's possible coaches could go another direction.
Asked whether Williams should have questions about his future, Morris said, "I don't think he should because it's the (fourth) week of the season, so we're definitely not looking beyond this year. The most important game is the game you play this week. That's the bottom line, and Cadillac is our starting halfback.
"I don't know a head coach in this league that wants to hand the ball to any one man 30 times in the game. That's not the style of the league right now."
The Bucs seem prepared to do what is necessary to inject life into their stagnant running game, and the opportunity has arrived. Blount, a blend of speed and power, has sparked the team's curiosity since before the draft, prompting it to claim him off waivers last month. He now has had sufficient time to absorb the playbook and become more functional in the offense.
Huggins, a shifty scatback, has been slowed by a groin injury and is expected to debut Sunday. He could become the third-down back.
Whatever roles Blount and Huggins play, they are likely to change the complexion of the running game. That's why Dominik asked for patience in judging that aspect of the team.
"I think that's a question that will be better answered four weeks from now," he said. "We're in the process of figuring all that out."
Williams is hoping his team shows a measure of patience, too, saying he can regain the form he showed in his rookie season in 2005, when he was named Associated Press offensive rookie of the year.
"To this day, I can get those types of things done," he said. "(We are) three games into it. Yeah, the yards are not there; the yards per carry are not there. But it's three games."
Times staff writer Rick Stroud contributed to this report.