TAMPA — While the Bucs continue to sort out who will lead the passing game, the running game is rounding into shape.
Several things were established in Thursday night's preseason loss to the Dolphins.
The Bucs are now more convinced that Cadillac Williams can help them this season, given his 54 yards on eight carries. The new zone blocking system is beginning to run the way it's intended. And the three-man running back rotation may work.
It adds up to a promising outlook. Tampa Bay's preseason 4.7-yards per carry is a good sign for a team that maintains it will use a run-first offense.
Coach Raheem Morris said Williams ran with a determination not expected from a player coming off consecutive season-ending knee injuries.
"The first time he touched (the ball), it might have been a 3-yard run, but it was exciting," Morris said. "He got the ball and got hit for about 1 (yard), but you just saw the legs drive and keep pushing and get the first down. … Then, to see him get into the open field and have a one-on-one with the safety and see the safety holding on for dear life till some buddies came, that was exciting."
Earnest Graham later ripped off a 27-yard run, the game's longest. Morris stayed pretty true to his intention of playing Williams for two series, Derrick Ward for the next two and Graham for one.
Morris believed the game provided a good blueprint for how the lineup could work in the regular season. "When you get a chance to see how three of those guys work together, you see what we're talking about with feeding off the one who got hot," he said. "(Thursday) night, Earnest and Cadillac got hot, so you kind of let them go a little bit."
The zone blocking scheme worked well, opening creases for the backs who theoretically should thrive in the system.
"I think all the backs were pretty hungry, and it was good to see those guys really come alive," said C Jeff Faine, who said his groin injury responded well in his first preseason action. "They're hard runners, so they run through arm tackles, and you're going to have a lot of those in this scheme."
GENO'S TIME: LB Geno Hayes performed well, in Morris' assessment, in his first start as weakside linebacker. Hayes is replacing Jermaine Phillips, who this week moved back to safety from linebacker.
"Maybe the most positive thing (Thursday) night was Geno Hayes," Morris said. "I don't know if you saw him run down on every special team and almost make every tackle, then play linebacker and start and play like he did. That's really positive."
INJURY UPDATE: LB Adam Hayward injured an ankle. His status for next week wasn't clear. CB Elbert Mack (ankle) was a game-time decision and played extensively.