fourAMPA, Fla. -- If you were in Mobile, Ala., in January of 2005, you saw a case of love at first sight.
Tampa Bay's Jon Gruden was coaching in the Senior Bowl and each day he would come off the practice field and rave about Auburn running back Carnell "Cadillac" Williams. Gruden didn't try to hide his feeling that he'd found the perfect running back for his system, telegraphing what he would do with the fifth overall pick in the draft a few months later.
He drafted Williams, turned him into the Offensive Rookie of the Year and the story was supposed to just keep getting better and better. Maybe it will after a long and very painful pause.
On Monday night, the Bucs will travel to Carolina for an NFC South showdown. On Monday night, Williams will return to Bank of America Stadium, the place where his career almost ended a little more than a year ago. On Monday night, Gruden and the Bucs may need Williams more than ever.
"This is a place to get rid of all the whispers and the doubters and get everybody on the bandwagon," Williams said.
There was more than whispers and doubt on that day in September 2007 when Williams shredded his patellar tendon.
"I broke outside," Williams said. "The safety (Chris) Harris was coming down. I was heading toward the sideline and was looking to make a cut back. When I planted with my right foot, it kind of just gave out and that's when he hit me at the top."
What happened next wasn't pretty. Williams crumpled to the ground and grown men panicked. The play happened right in front of the Carolina bench and Panthers receiver Steve Smith, sensing the seriousness of the injury, immediately began screaming for trainers to assist his fallen rival.
"As soon as it happened, I knew it was something bad," Williams said.
That was obvious as Williams was carted off the field. As news of the severity of the injury spread, there was speculation that Williams' career was over. At the very least, the assumption was that...