TAMPA, Fla. -- Carnell "Cadillac" Williams wore a smile that matched the enthusiasm in coach Jon Gruden's voice.
Tampa Bay's fourth-year running back feels he's "good to go" after being sidelined more than 13 months with a serious knee injury, and his coach is equally excited about his impending return.
The Buccaneers have until Wednesday to decide if Williams, who began the season on the physically unable to perform list, will be activated to the 53-man roster. Although Gruden said a decision had not been made, it sounded like the 2005 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year is back.
"We staged a couple of drills for Carnell Williams to get hit, and he responded to it. It's exciting," Gruden said Monday, when players went through a 90-minute workout in pads after not practicing at all during the team's bye week.
"I've said for a long time, it's almost like Christmas is here. Christmas is Wednesday, I hope. We'll see how he feels, talk to the trainer and medical people. If my eyes don't deceive me, I think he's got a chance to be a player this year for our team."
Williams hasn't played since Sept. 30, 2007 when he tore the patellar tendon in his right knee against the Carolina Panthers. He rushed for 1,178 yards as a rookie, but injuries have limited his production the past two seasons.
The 26-year-old welcomed Monday's contact drill and is confident he will be activated before practice Wednesday, even though Gruden cautioned it's too soon to expect Williams to resume a role as a featured back.
"I do feel like I can come in and help the team. ... I'm just looking to contribute any way I can," Williams said.
The timing of Williams' return is crucial because leading rusher Earnest Graham (knee) and five-time 1,000-yard rusher Warrick Dunn (back) are less than 100 percent. There's a chance both will play Sunday against Minnesota, although Gruden noted you can never have too much depth at running back.
"This guy's a very good back," Gruden said. "We have film to prove that."
Graham, who has also filled in at fullback because of injuries, agreed.
"It's a team game. I say all the time, Cadillac was a great back. Hopefully he gets back to that form," said Graham, who would not discuss specifics about the injury he suffered during Tampa Bay's overtime victory at Kansas City two weeks ago.
"It never hurts to have another back in this game. ... Having a great chance to be in the postseason, we definitely need him back."
Williams continued to work out while the remainder of the team rested last week. He's as curious as any one about how Gruden will integrate him back into the offense, but stressed what's most important is it finally looks like he's ready to get back on the field.
"This last couple of months, a lot has been said," Williams said. "I've put in a lot of work. I'm just excited."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press