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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Cadillac ready to carry workload
The Bucs' rookie tailback admits he was taken a bit aback by the heavy hitting in his NFL debut.
By RICK STROUD
Published September 18, 2005
[Times photo: Bill Serne]
Cadillac Williams' 148 yards rushing last week against Minnesota was the NFL's best debut by a rookie running back in 25 years. His 71-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter capped the Bucs' 24-13 win.
TAMPA - Everyone knew Cadillac Williams was ready to make an immediate impact on the NFL.
But the Bucs rookie running back admits he wasn't totally prepared for the imprint defenders would try to leave on him once the regular season began.
Standing at his locker last week with his sprained right wrist bandaged and his left ankle heavily taped, Williams said he was surprised by the punishment he absorbed rushing 27 times in his splashy debut.
"The speed, the intensity, the licks. I mean, it's a different ballgame out there," Williams said. "Preseason, it ain't comparable to the regular season.
"The hits were definitely harder, guys get after you more. One time I got clotheslined, my first time ever getting clotheslined. So, you know, that was kind of neat to see something like that happen. I took a couple blows there in that game that kind of got my attention."
Most of the attention was on Williams' 148-yard rushing performance in the Bucs' 27-13 win over the Vikings, the best debut by an NFL running back in 25 years. But more than a few in and out of One Buc Place were concerned about how Williams would handle the punishment.
"I was talking to Cadillac and asking him if he was sore," fullback Mike Alstott said. "He said, "Yeah, it's nothing like college.' He's absolutely right. The intensity, the speed, the physical contact is enormous. It's a different world than college.
"You get those three or four extra pops. He's just got to be smart. If he knows he's not going to get any more yards, take it down."
That's probably good advice for today when Williams and the Bucs host the Buffalo Bills, owners of the league's No. 1 defense.
Bucs coach Jon Gruden has declared the 217-pound Williams a workhorse and he plans to ride him, hoping he's more Secretariat than Ruffian.
"After we drafted (Williams), I pretty much solved in my own mind we just drafted a great back," Gruden said. "I'm not saying you're always right in your evaluations. But if you don't like this guy, if you don't want to give him the ball, what are you looking for? You know when you come to camp and see the way he runs and the way he moves and the way he finishes the conditioning that he has the natural instincts and explosiveness. ... No, we were determined to make him the featured back and feature him."
In the preseason, when Williams had just 12 carries, Gruden was criticized for hiding his No. 1 pick. Turns out he was just saving him. "We gave him the ball very little in the preseason and people didn't like it," Gruden said. "Now we're giving him the ball too much and we're going to wear him out. What the hell do you guys want?"
What Williams wants, of course, is the football. He shared the backfield at Auburn with Ronnie Brown and still managed to average 240 carries his last two seasons.
"He's just a pain in the a-- when he doesn't get the ball," Gruden said. "Not because he's not selfish, he just loves football. He wants to contribute and compete, in a positive way."
What's more, Gruden insists, is that Williams is at least as big or bigger than franchise backs such as Priest Holmes (Chiefs) and Curtis Martin (Jets).
"He's a lot bigger than a lot of the backs that are playing and playing great," Gruden said. "We coached Curtis at (the University of) Pittsburgh. Our guy is bigger than Curtis. Priest Holmes, some of the guys who are revolutionizing the running game right now are 208, 211 pounds. This guy is plenty big enough, and the thing we love about him is his stamina. This guy gets stronger as the game goes on. Sometimes defenses get a little tired, and that's where you get the big runs."
Case in point: If Gruden limits Williams to 26 carries at Minnesota, he never breaks free for a game-sealing, 71-yard touchdown. Williams says he's not worried about the workload over a 16-game season.
"To be honest, I really don't. I'm the kind of person who lives day-to-day, game-by-game," Williams said. "At the time, whatever it takes to get it done, if that's 15 carries, five catches, 20 or 30 carries - whatever - let's get the job done.
"That's me. I feel like if I wasn't a back who finished and went for the extra yards, I wouldn't be Carnell. So I'm definitely not going to change my style."
On the first play from scrimmage at Minnesota, Williams took a handoff and nearly ran over safety Corey Chavous. Now that's an impact runner.
"A lot of people hear the moniker he's got on his name and they think he's all flash," running backs coach Art Valero said. "He's got a lot more power and he runs with his pads down, as opposed to a lot of fast guys. People think he's all about bells and whistles and all that stuff, but he's got a lot more to his game.
"I think it's more of a feel thing. We know what he's capable of doing. But it's more of a feel thing as time unfolds. He might get 15 carries and five other touches. But in this offense, he's definitely a guy who you want to keep the ball in his hands."