TAMPA, Fla. -- The thought of finally getting back on the field under game conditions makes Cadillac Williams smile.
Seven months after undergoing major knee surgery for the second time in just over a year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back will make his preseason debut Thursday night against the Miami Dolphins.
"I'm looking forward to it," he said, his words not nearly matching the excitement in his voice. "I'm sure I'm going to make the most of it."
Williams was the 2005 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and became the first player in league history to begin his career with three consecutive 100-yard games. His production has been limited the past three seasons because of injuries.
A torn patellar tendon in his right knee sidelined him from September 2007 until last November, when he was activated from the physically unable to perform list only to have 2008 end in disappointment, too.
Six weeks into his comeback following a laborious rehabilitation, Williams tore the patellar tendon in his left knee when he was tackled at the end of a 28-yard run during a season-ending loss to the Oakland Raiders.
The 27-year-old is not surprised to be back on field so soon because the second injury wasn't considered as severe.
Unlike two seasons ago when the patellar tendon in his right knee was ruptured, the tendon pulled away from the bone in his left knee, making it simpler to repair and requiring less recovery time.
When training camp opened this month, Williams was able to practice without limitations.
"As soon as I did it, I was just hoping it was off the bone, which it was. I knew I could get back within six months," said Williams, who was held out of Tampa Bay's first two preseason games for precautionary reasons.
"Going through everything I went through with the first injury, I wouldn't say this one was a cakewalk, but it was so much better," Williams said. "The knee's been fabulous. I haven't missed a practice, haven't missed a beat."
Bucs coach Raheem Morris has been impressed by what he has seen. Williams will start against the Dolphins and share playing time into the third quarter with offseason acquisition Derrick Ward and Earnest Graham.
Ward ran for 1,025 yards with the New York Giants in 2008. Graham has led the Bucs in rushing the last two seasons, taking advantage of an opportunity he got -- in part -- because Williams was injured.
Williams, who rushed for 1,178 yards and six TDs as a rookie, has performed so good in practice that Morris pulled out some video from 2005 to draw comparisons to how Williams looked as a rookie.
The coach wound up compiling a tape featuring some of Williams' best runs, as well as clips of Ward and Graham. He planned to show it to the entire team when the Bucs convened at their hotel Wednesday night.
"He looks like the old Cadillac. ... I'm really ecstatic to see this young man get his first live action," Morris said.
"I told the players, he's starting (Thursday) and we're going to watch him play. He's coming out of the tunnel last (during pregame introductions). I want to see the reaction of the crowd and hear the stadium explode."
That thought also makes Williams smile.
The fifth-year pro felt he was just beginning to resemble his himself again when he was injured against the Raiders in December.
He's not happy about sitting out the first two preseasons games, and is eager to make up for lost time.
"I need the work. I need to get the timing of the offense full-speed, make cuts full-speed, take some licks," he said.
"They were being cautious, and that's OK. But the last thing on my mind is my knees. I'm good to go. Haven't felt this good in a long time."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press