TAMPA — All week long, Bucs coach Raheem Morris has been singing the praises of Cadillac Williams, proclaiming that the fifth-year back has been showing flashes of his old brilliance on the practice field, the kind fans knew before serious knee injuries in 2007 and 2008 knocked his career out of gear.
Thursday night, spectators at Raymond James Stadium and a national TV audience saw what Morris was talking about. Williams, making his first appearance of the preseason, hit holes with power and abandon during his first-half stint and briefly in the second against the Dolphins.
There was no sign of jitters or timidity from the player running with a pair of reconstructed knees against the NFL's No. 10 rushing defense in 2008. From his first run on the second play from scrimmage — slamming up the middle for a 4-yard gain and a first down — No. 24 sent a message that he could be a major factor in Tampa Bay's running game this season.
"It just feels great. It's a blessing," said Williams, who finished with 54 yards on eight carries. "I'm just so excited to be out there with these guys. I feel so good to be out there this season."
As for his most recent injury, a patellar tendon tear in his left knee in the final game last season, he said, "The knee is not an issue for me. … I feel great."
His best moment came on third and 5 from Miami's 38-yard line with just over 10 minutes left in the first quarter. He busted through a hole on the left side and raced 19 yards, helping to set up Mike Nugent's 29-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.
It was an encouraging sight for the Bucs, particularly given their zone blocking schemes designed to create creases at the line. Williams showed he's ready to exploit them, finishing the first quarter with 32 yards on five carries, 6.4 yards per tote.
Williams then gave way to Derrick Ward, the second man up in Morris' new 2-2-1 running back rotation. Ward's first three carries netted minus-2 yards.
Then Earnest Graham got his chance as the "1." On his second carry, he broke two tackles on a 27-yard romp down the left sideline.
"Those guys are a big key in what we do," Williams said. " … It's going to be tough on defenses.''
And back Williams came, picking up where he had left off, cutting back against the grain for a 12-yard gain, later adding a slashing 8-yard run in the third quarter.