The Buccaneers running game experienced quite a solid season in 2008. As an entire unit, they rushed for 1,636 yards. Those are the combined yards of Cadillac Williams, BJ Askew, Clifton Smith, Warrick Dunn and Ernest Graham.
Warrick Dunn – 186 CAR, 786 YDS, 2 TDS
Ernest Graham – 132 CAR, 563 YDS, 4 TDS
Cadillac Williams – 63 CAR, 233 YDS, 4 TDS
During game one of the season, it was obvious we would be employing a running back by committee approach, using mainly Warrick Dunn as the receiving/exterior running back and using Ernest Graham as the main smash mouth back and featured goal line back.
Through the first 6 weeks of the season, sans the Chicago Bears game in Week 3, that tandem rushed for over 100 yards in every game. Warrick Dunn rushed for over 100 yards once in Week 6 vs Carolina (115), and Ernest Graham rushed for over 100 yards twice, in Week 2 vs Atlanta (116) and in Week 4 vs Green Bay (111).
I personally was quite excited how the combo was producing productive yards in just about every contest in the first half of the season. Then Ernest Graham suffered a season ending injury in Week 11 and the dynamic of the running back situation drastically changed. The irony was, the guy Ernest Graham originally replaced to receive his first real shot as an NFL running back, Cadillac Williams, was now back on the 53 man roster after his season ending injury in 2007.
We got back to our 100 yard rushing status in Week 12 vs the awful Lions, with Warrick Dunn picking up 90 and Cadillac Williams getting his first real work of the season in garbage time of that game.
After the Lions game, we didn’t rush for 100 yards as a team any more times throughout the season. Warrick Dunn was experiencing an injury that was hindering him a bit, Ernest Graham was on the IR, even with Clifton Smith’s success returning the ball head coach Jon Gruden didn’t trust him because of a few of his fumbles on returns, and Cadillac was still rounding into game shape.
In week 17 against the Raiders, a game that would have ultimately put the Bucs in the playoffs, Cadillac Williams was starting to show real signs of life, and the ability that made him a top 5 NFL draft pick. At the end of a 27 yard run in the 4th quarter, Cadillac Williams went down, and never got back up. CBS was picking up the audio feed of what Caddy was saying, and it wasn’t pretty. He had suffered a similar injury to his one in 2007, this time to his left knee as opposed to his right. This injury killed the team, the crowd, and ultimately the game as we let the Raiders beat us on our home field, in a must win game (still very bitter about this).
Personally I thought the unit as a whole was quite efficient, and it was just some untimely injuries to all three guys that prohibited the team from ever being able to use them all in a way that would have made us better than a 15th ranked rushing team. Warrick Dunn is a year older, and the early news on Caddy is that he won’t be ready until the 2nd half of next season. That leaves Ernest Graham, possibly Clifton Smith and whoever else we look at in Free Agency or the draft to fight for yardage next year behind our up and coming offensive line.
Grade – B -