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Tampa Bay Bucs' Cadillac Williams believes he can be an elite running back again

TAMPA — His name is familiar. It is his game that has been forgotten.

Everyone knows Cadillac Williams. Let's put it another way. Everyone loves Cadillac Williams although, to tell the truth, he'd love it to be for a different reason.

Around here, Cadillac is considered as much a feel-good story as a football player. Most people know he has led the NFL in the size of his bad luck and in the distance covered in overcoming it. Everyone can tell you about the scars that run from his knees to his statistics. Everyone knows he came a million miles to get back on the field and 821 yards once he arrived.

Yet, when the conversation turns to the elite backs of the NFL, no one seems able to recall his name.

At that point, Cadillac becomes the running back the world forgot.

Talk about production, and Williams, 28, becomes a stranger to the conversation. Talk about stardom, and he turns invisible. He is yesterday's news, and the consensus is that he is just another guy on just another team.

He knows. Williams hears the buzz, and he is aware of the impressions.

This year, he says, he wants to remind everyone of what he can do.

"No doubt, I've been forgotten," Williams said. "I understand it. The production hasn't been there. I've been injured.

"I think everyone knows about the knees and the comebacks. But this year, I want to separate myself from that. This is a year I want to put all that aside and get back to being the dominant back I feel like I'm capable of being. I definitely think I can do that."

Williams ticks off the elite backs of the league. Adrian Peterson. Chris Johnson. Ray Rice. "I think I can be in that class," Williams said.

Can he? It's one of the most important questions of Bucs training camp. If Williams can regain his old burst, then the Bucs offense won't have to depend on a second-year quarterback throwing to rookies all day long. If Williams can bring back that dodge-and-dash ability from his rookie year, the Bucs may have more punch than anyone suspects.

Still, it has been a long time since Williams was special. Last year, he was 30th in the NFL in rushing, and he had only one 100-yard game. You don't impress anyone by averaging 51.4 yards per game.

"That's true," Williams said. "I want to be in that 1,200-1,400 range. That's what an elite back does."

Even given the way statistics inflate during training camp, that's a lot. After all, Williams gained 40 yards or fewer in eight of his 16 games last year. In three, he had fewer than 10 yards. Put it like this: The Bucs played 32 halves of football last year. Williams gained 50 yards in only three of those.

So what makes us think Caddy can be better this year?

"For one thing, we're going to have a much better team," he said. "If you go back, there were a lot of games when I would carry eight times in the first half, and I'd wind up with 11 because we were behind and we had to throw the ball. I think our defense is going to be better. The big gains are going to come."

If your memory is good enough, you may recall how often the big gains used to come for Williams. He had 100 yards the first three games in which he played in the NFL. He finished his rookie season with six.

Since then, he has had three.

So here's the question: Can Cadillac be an elite back again?

"When you talk about Cadillac, you're talking right between the rib cage," Bucs coach Raheem Morris says. "You're talking about a guy who has all kinds of heart. He's just a different animal. On game day, he's going to give you every single thing he's got.

"There is no reason he can't be an elite back again. There is no reasons he's not an elite back when he's healthy and up and running. Right now, he's healthy. He's coming off an offseason when he didn't have an injury. He's excited. He knows it. He wants it."

The thing is, no one doubts Williams' heart. No one doubts his determination. No one doubts his toughness.

The other things? The flash and the quickness and the consistency? Those things, Williams has to prove.

If he does, the feel-good story would be even better.

If not, the Bucs might as well start the season third and long.

Tampa Bay Bucs' Cadillac Williams believes he can be an elite running back again 08/04/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 4, 2010 10:32pm]
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