Running Backs: Cadillac leads veteran group

Carnell Williams should easily beat out agin incumbents while rookie Watson stands to make a new reputation.

By Jeff Berlinicke

If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a glut of possibilities at any one position, it is running back.

That's not to say a glut of talent, just that there are some credible options as the 2005 training camp approaches on July 29.

The Bucs have several former Pro Bowlers to choose from as well as the No. 5 overall pick in the NFL draft. Except for that pick, Carnell Williams, there are question marks at each spot. The lineup would look strong if it were still 1999, but time and NFL pounding has taken its toll.

Williams wasn't chosen at No. 5 to sit on the bench. He was dependable at Auburn and would have had many more yards if he weren't sharing ball carrying responsibilities with No. 2 overall pick Ronnie Brown. Williams is big, has great speed and can hold onto the football, a trait missing from the 2004 stable of Bucs backs. He can also catch the ball out of the backfield even though Bucs coach Jon Gruden favors a more vertical attack, Williams is the starter even though the Bucs aren't saying so publicly.

The rest of the backfield gets a little complicated. Michael Pittman, Mike Alstott, Charlie Garner, Earnest Graham, and rookie Derek Watson all come with positives, some with experience, but all have drawbacks.

Start with Pittman. He won't carry the ball nearly as many times as he has in the past three years, and his fumbles at key times last season drove Bucs coach Jon Gruden crazy. He can breakaway at any time, but he puts the ball on the ground too much and could be a salary cap casualty, especially is Williams plays as expected.

Alstott isn't Alstott anymore. He was kept with the Bucs this season more out of loyalty and the threat of another public relations hit than what's left in his tank. Alstott saw his playing time greatly diminished last season and could turn into the Brad Johnson of 2005, a proud veteran watching from the sidelines.

Garner missed almost all of last season with injuries and is running on Scotch Tape. He's put up numbers in the past, but he's seen his better years. Still, Gruden likes him and he may yet become the Bucs No. 2 back if Pittman falters or is gone by opening day.

Graham has heart and gives effort, but he's little more than a special teams player. Somehow, he keeps coming back to the Bucs after being cut, mostly because the team loves his work ethic.

Watson is the question mark. He is loaded with talent and was a star at South Carolina before he got into off-the-field trouble, which caused him to transfer to smaller South Carolina State. He was signed as a free agent and impressed the Bucs staff in mini camps. If Watson gets the chance, he could be the surprise story of this decent, but again group.


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