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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

'It's all about 5,' so Caddy still key for Bucs

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Published:   |   Updated: March 22, 2013 at 01:07 AM
TAMPA -

The Bucs are big on catch phrases. "It's all about 5" has become more like a mantra. Nothing shows how strongly they believe it more than their current choice for a starting running back.

Cadillac Williams is no longer the Bucs' most productive ball carrier. Rookie LeGarrette Blount has usurped him. Williams starts, though, because no other back does a better job of protecting No. 5, quarterback Josh Freeman.

"We have to protect Josh to the best of our ability and there's just a real strong trust factor that we have with Cadillac in those situations where it calls for the back to be a part of that,'' offensive coordinator Greg Olson said.

"We actually kind of joke about it in our meetings sometimes. We'll be putting the game plan together, and I'll call for our Zebra (player personnel) package for a certain situation, and I'll say give me Zebra Trust there, which means give me No. 24, give me Cadillac.

''Williams hasn't always been the running back the Bucs trusted most as a pass protector. When he first arrived as their first-round pick out of Auburn in 2005 he was actually quite deficient. But during the nearly two years he spent on the sidelines nursing himself back to health from two knee injuries, he erased that deficiency and turned his ability to protect the passer into a coveted strength.

"Things like running the ball and all that, that's a God-given talent that you have and you pretty much know what you can do when it comes to that,'' Williams said. "But I always knew that as I got on in my career that I was going to have to get better in pass protection if I was going to manage to stay on the field, so I really worked at it.''

A lot of that work was spent in the film room, where Williams watched opposing defenses and blitzers, hoping to become more familiar with blitz schemes and the moves linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks use. He also watched tape of other running backs in hopes of picking up tips on how best to stop a blitzer.

Thanks to those studies and a little bit of coaching, Williams can now give a lecture series on an aspect of the game he once knew very little about.

"Once I know the (protection scheme) and I have my point - where I'm supposed to (line up) - I just work from there because that's when the physical part takes over,'' said Williams, who offered the key to winning that physical battle.

"The thing you really have to make sure to do is make sure you're (lined up) right down the middle (of the player you have to block),'' Williams said.

"If you try to play him on the edge, whether it's his right (shoulder) or his left (shoulder), then it's just too easy for him to get by you and get to the quarterback. But if you play him down the middle then he has to run through you, and if you get your (body) low, then most of the time you can stay on those big guys, even if they outweigh you by 30 or 40 pounds.''

Williams is 5-feet-11, 217 pounds. Taking on a rushing lineman or linebacker who weighs 30 or 40 pounds more is something many backs aren't all that eager to do. Williams, however, says he looks forward to those confrontations.

"I actually enjoy getting out there and getting one on one with a guy that's much bigger than me, just to see if he can beat me,'' Williams said. "And I think for the most part, I've held my own with guys.''

The Bucs won't argue that. Neither will Jon Beason, the Carolina Panthers' two-time Pro Bowl linebacker who likely will be one of Williams' targets during Sunday's game at Raymond James Stadium.

"I think he's a very smart guy when it comes to picking up those different protections,'' Beason said. "You hardly ever see him make a mistake there.''

The same cannot be said of Blount. He effectively picked up a blitz earlier in the season, but proved he still has a way to go there last week when he completely misread a Falcons blitz that resulted in a clean sack of Freeman.

"When you're a rookie like Blount, there's always a (learning) curve,'' Beason said. "They never really have problems running the ball. The problem is protecting the passer. But if you can't protect the passer, it's hard to get on the field in this league.''

Their desire to protect Freeman aside, the Bucs didn't have much choice but to get Blount on the field. Williams, after all, has struggled to gain ground all season and averages just 2.4 yards per carry.

Blount, meanwhile, has sparked the rushing attack. Though he didn't start playing until the third week of the season and has seen limited duty, he already leads the Bucs with 268 rushing yards and a 4.8-yard average.

"He's doing a good job of being a bruiser and wearing defenses down and then popping the big one but when it comes to protecting the passer you've got to stick with that experience,'' Beason said.

The Bucs have every intention of doing just that, and Blount understands why. He believes he's getting better as a pass protector, but realizes he's not as good as Williams.

"Hey, they've invested a lot of money in Josh Freeman,'' Blount said. "That's our $30 million man and if you let him get hit, you're probably going to lose your job.''

The job Freeman has done so far this season has been northing short of exceptional, particularly for a quarterback making only his 18th career start. Freeman ranks 17th in the league in passer rating with an 85.8 mark, and has done an adequate job against the blitz, completing 57 of 105 passes for 804 yards and six touchdowns, according to ESPN statistics.

The work Freeman put in during the offseason learning not only his own offense but opposing defenses is probably the biggest reason for that success, but Freeman doesn't discount the role Williams has played.

"Cadillac knows it as well as anybody,'' Freeman said. "We'll go up to the line and he knows the protection calls and exactly who's blocking who. "He even knows the offensive line matchups, so if we have a mismatch or they're stunting inside, he knows he can step up and help a guy out.

"A guy like Cadillac, it's really impossible to replace what he's doing for us right now.''

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