TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay's Carnell "Cadillac" Williams took on a new role in practice Wednesday: emulating Adrian Peterson.
The Buccaneers hope the next step for the fourth-year tailback, returning from a career-threatening knee injury that's sidelined him more than 13 months, is reverting to running the ball like his old self.
Cadillac is driven by Graham
"We're trying to simulate as much real football activity as we can, and he's responding tremendously," coach Jon Gruden said Wednesday after Williams participated in his first practice since being activated from the physically unable to perform list.
The 2005 Offensive Rookie of the Year's return comes at a good time for the Bucs (6-3) because leading rushers Earnest Graham (knee) and Warrick Dunn (back) are both nursing injuries heading into Sunday's game against Minnesota.
Although Williams, out since tearing the patellar tendon in his right knee in September 2007, is not ready for a role as a featured back, he could get some playing time this week if all goes well in practice.
"I am totally leaving it to the coaches. I am just out here trying hard and contributing in any way possible to this team," Williams said. "How much I play is up to them."
To make room on the 53-man roster, former 1,000-yard rusher Michael Bennett was released, ending a yearlong stay with the Bucs that began after Williams and Michael Pittman were injured last season.
Reserve receiver Maurice Stovall (hamstring) was placed on injured reserve, and receiver Brian Clark was promoted from the practice squad to fill the opening.
Williams rushed for 1,178 yards and six touchdowns as a rookie, but his production has been limited the past two seasons because of injuries. He missed the final 12 games of 2007 after undergoing surgery in October.
"I'm just really happy for him and crossing my fingers that we do the right thing and he gets a chance to carry the ball at some point soon," Gruden said.
The Bucs had until Wednesday to decide if Williams would be activated from PUP or be placed on injured reserve, a move that would have sidelined him the remainder of the season. There was no doubt in the 26-year-old's mind he'd demonstrated he was ready to return.
And with Peterson, the NFL's leading rusher, coming to town this week, the defense needed someone to portray the young Vikings star in practice.
"His role today was to carry the ball 30 times. ... We're just trying to get him back," Gruden said. "We're doing the best we can. We've studied it. We've really done the right thing."
The coach added Williams, who participated in contact drills Monday and is confident the surgically repaired knee will hold up in game conditions, has been an inspiration for the entire team.
"When you get an injury of this magnitude, they're very much threatening to your career. ... It's a scary thing for a player in this league," Gruden said. "I think they've all witnessed what he's done, and they get a certain amount of pride in what he's accomplished and they are really pulling for him."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press