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Even with those advantages, the immediate impact made by the 5'11", 217-pound Williams is still stunning. In his last two seasons at Auburn he split time with Ronnie Brown, a rookie with the Dolphins who was the No. 2 pick. Williams won't be sharing a job again anytime soon. With rushing totals of 148, 128 and 158 yards in his first three games as a pro (the latest in Sunday's 17-16 win over the Packers at Lambeau Field), Williams leads the league in carries (88) and yards (434). He's the workhorse back that Gruden has been searching for since taking the Bucs job in February 2002.
Gruden decided Williams was his man at last January's Senior Bowl in Mobile. The Tampa Bay staff happened to be coaching the South team, which featured Williams as a starting running back. The coaches grew to like him so much during the week of practice before the game that, fearing he might get hurt, Gruden yanked Williams after the first play of the Senior Bowl and never put him back in. "We fell in love with him as a player and a person," general manager Bruce Allen says. "He loved football; it was important to him. By the end of the week, the worst-kept secret in the NFL was that Carnell was the guy we wanted to draft."
So three months before the draft Williams had already been exposed to the shifting, motion and pass routes required of backs in Gruden's offense. And when Williams reported to camp on time, Gruden had him working with the first unit from the start. Now the question is whether a back who averaged 17.6 carries over a 42-game college career can handle 25 carries a game for 16 to 20 tests in an NFL season. Williams was averaging 29.3 carries through three games. "I'm a little sore," he said on Monday, "but overall I feel well. I think my most carries at Auburn in a game was 41, and I had 40 another game, so I'm definitely used to carrying it that much." Look for Gruden to keep feeding him the ball at the current rate.
Shakeup After A Bad Start
The 0-2 Texans seemed to be in panic mode during their bye week as they prepared to face the red-hot 3-0 Bengals. They replaced offensive coordinator Chris Palmer with offensive line coach Joe Pendry, figuring Pendry will be tougher on underachieving quarterback David Carr. Then they benched two starters--linebacker Jason Babin (18 career starts, four sacks) and cornerback Phillip Buchanon (38 games, 11 interceptions)--whom they had spent a draft fortune on.
In 2004 Houston traded three picks to Tennessee for an extra first-round pick, which it used on Babin; last April the Texans dealt two picks to Oakland for Buchanon, who was a first-rounder in '02. That's a lot to give up for such poor production. "I can't be worried about that," says Dom Capers, who has a 16-34 record in the franchise's three seasons. "[ Babin and Buchanon] didn't play the way we expect."
Capers's future with the team--and G.M. Charley Casserly's as well--may depend on how much Carr improves and whether new starters Shantee Orr, at outside linebacker, and Demarcus Faggins, at corner, perform much better than Babin and Buchanon did.