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Biggest surprise? Not seeing more of Cadillac

Imagine if Carnell Williams were unsigned, the way former teammate Ronnie Brown is. Don't you think the Bucs would howl about how much he was missing by not playing in the first preseason game?

Published August 13, 2005

NASHVILLE - He will remember the fabric of the night, the difference between the way a professional stadium and a college one feels.

He will remember the jersey hanging in his locker, the way he knew it was for him, the way it felt as it slid over his head.

He will remember the kid in the stands leaning over the rail and pleading for his cap, and as he threw it, the way the kid snatched it out of the air.

Except for that, Carnell Williams will remember ... nothing.

The Bucs' new weapon remains a secret. The running back who promises to be something to see is still invisible. The player with places to go has yet to go anywhere.

On the first night of the Cadillac, it turns out, Jon Gruden left the keys in his other pants.

"What did you expect to see? Three carries? Four?" Gruden said. "I've seen a lot of Cadillac in practice. I know the nation hasn't. But we have 16 games to play, and Cadillac is going to carry the ball a lot. We're going to build our offense around him and Michael Clayton."

Sakes alive, wouldn't Friday night have been a good time to start? Wasn't this the night Williams was going to flash a little of his splash and show a little of his go? That's all you wanted to see. A hint of electricity. A promise of magic.

Instead, he was a spectator. He had no yards. Also, no attempts. Also, no catches. On his only play, he attempted a block, but really, he did not have one of those, either. You might have thought he was holding out; instead, he was held out.

"I would have loved to have gotten my feet wet," Williams said. "But the coaches wanted to save it for the home fans. I guess I can understand that."

Considering that the last time we saw the Bucs they couldn't run and the last time we saw Williams he could, it was an unexpected, unsettling decision. Williams was drafted to be the solution for the Bucs' nagging back problems.

Expectations? All fans wanted from Cadillac was for him to become the best runner in the history of the franchise. Not that there is any pressure.

Why, then, wouldn't the Bucs give the ball to Williams? Doesn't he need experience? Doesn't he need timing? Don't the coaches need to learn how much he can contribute in the short term? Doesn't he need to get that first hit behind him?

Look, preseason games are like dress-up parties. What happens in them is largely counterfeit. Except to whet a few appetites, it wouldn't have mattered if Williams had two 60-yard runs or if he had run six times for 3 yards.

But none for none?

That isn't an answer. It's a new question.

How many times have we heard teams grouse that players, especially young players, need the experience, need the timing? Imagine if Williams were unsigned, the way former teammate Ronnie Brown is. Don't you think the Bucs would howl about how much he was missing by not playing in the first preseason game?

So why keep the car parked?

Possibility 1: Williams is having a harder time learning the offense than the Bucs have let on.

After all, rookies struggle. The playbook could crush a cat, and to many rookies, anything after Page 4 can look like hieroglyphics. No shame in that.

Relax. The Bucs say that isn't the case. Williams has been impressive in team drills, and he's catching on just fine.

Possibility 2: The Bucs want Williams to start at the bottom and work his way up.

That might make sense, of course, if the Bucs weren't playing without Michael Pittman and Mike Alstott, both dinged during training camp. Instead, Williams watched as Earnest Graham, then Ian Smart, then Derek Watson ran the ball.

Nothing against those guys, but if Williams doesn't have more horsepower than all of them, he's going to need a new nickname.

Possibility 3: Williams is too darned valuable to risk.

Maybe Gruden wanted to fool the scouts. Maybe he wanted to take a look at his patchwork offensive line before he threw Williams at a defense.

Here's the problem with that one. The NFL is different than college, and games are different than practice. Eventually, Gruden has to take the wrapping off Williams. Here's the deal: Next week's opponent has linebackers, too.

"We're trying to hold some things back (from other teams)," Gruden said. "And we don't want to get him hurt."

Still, can anyone remember a preseason opener when a highly regarded rookie, signed and healthy, barely played? A couple of carries would have been nice.

They say a thousand-mile journey starts with the first step.

A thousand-yard season, too.

[Last modified August 13, 2005, 01:23:07]

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