LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) -There were days when Carnell ``Cadillac'' Williams wondered if he'd ever walk normally again, let alone resume his football career.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' running back began training camp on the physically unable to perform list, however he's confident his return from a career-threatening knee injury is not far away.
``Nothing is guaranteed in life, but I don't see it any other way but I'm playing this season,'' the fourth-year pro said, his fingers tracing a long, nasty scar that runs down his right leg and across his surgically repaired knee.
``I'm feeling good about where I am in my rehab. I'm on track. Things are going well. I'm steady making progress.''
Williams tore the patellar tendon in his right knee when his leg was caught awkwardly beneath his body when he was tackled at the end of an 18-yard run against the Carolina Panthers on Sept. 30.
The 2005 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year underwent surgery two days later. He missed the final three months of the season, spending much of that time back home in Alabama with his mother, Sherry.
He broke his left leg as a sophomore at Auburn in 2002 and was hindered by injuries for stretches of his first two pro seasons. But none of that prepared him for the helpless feeling that accompanied rehabbing his knee.
``Can you imagine going five or six weeks not having the power to lift your own leg? You've got to depend on people 24-7,'' he said.
``My mind was gone. Here I go from walking and running - just doing the normal - to now I can't even move my leg. It was tough to deal with. ... There was a time coming off surgery in December, January and February where I just didn't see any light. It was just black at the end of the tunnel.''
The Bucs are not counting on his return any time soon.
Former special teams contributor Earnest Graham took advantage of an opportunity afforded by injuries to Williams and Michael Pittman and performed well enough as the lead running back that he received a contract extension worth more than $10 million this summer.
Five-time 1,000-yard rusher Warrick Dunn was brought in this offseason and another former Pro Bowl selection, Michael Bennett, is on the roster - making tailback one of the deepest positions on the roster.
Especially if Williams returns and is anywhere near the player he was in 2005, when he was the fifth player selected in the draft and became the first running back in NFL history to begin his career with three consecutive 100-yard games.
He finished his rookie season with 1,178 yards and six touchdowns, then fell off to 798 yards and one TD in 2006.
He started slowly again last season, but was on the way to his most productive game of the year when he tried to cut back to elude safety Chris Harris at the Carolina 30 and turn his best run of the day into a long touchdown jaunt.
``As soon as it happened, I knew it was bad. I mean severe, severe pain,'' Williams said. ``I heard something pop. I said, `This is not good.'''
The Bucs placed the 26-year-old on PUP on the first day of training camp. If he remains on the list when the regular season begins, he'll miss a minimum of six games.
He spends his mornings during camp working out in the shadows of teammates, running on an adjacent practice field, sometimes with a small parachute attached to his waist, and taking part in light agility drills.
He feels himself getting stronger every day.
``Right now, I know it doesn't look good. There's a lot of things being said. Me, I just zone all that stuff out and show up to work and keep grinding. I've always been the type, I'm going to push as hard I can and let's see what happens,'' Williams said.
``If things don't turn out, I can always look myself in the eye and say I gave it everything I had.''
During minicamp in June, coach Jon Gruden called Williams' bid to get back on the field ahead of schedule ``one of the most amazing comebacks that I've seen.''
``He hasn't come back yet, but he's banging on the door,'' Gruden said. ``He's putting himself through an unbelievable workout routine. I've never seen anything like it. It rivals some of the great Rocky Balboa movies you see on TV.''
Still, Williams can't escape reminders of the injury.
In addition to the nearly foot-long scar on his leg and being unable to join teammates on the practice field, there are the people he meets away from football.
``I watch TV. I read stuff. ... Then every time I was out in public back home, it was like: `I'm so sorry to hear about your career-ending injury.' I'm like wow,'' he said. ``With media throwing it at you, people throwing it at you, it's a time - no matter how strong you are - those thoughts are going to sink in and you're going to start doubting yourself.''
Williams actually smiled when asked about the play itself. He's watched it on tape three or four times and still thinks he would have scored if he been able to cut back from the sideline.
He's not at all squeamish.
``To me, that's all behind me. I'm not the type of guy who's going to go back and watch the play over and over or have regrets,'' he said. ``A lot of people say you should have just run out of the bounds, man. All that's good and well. I'm not going to relive the past. I was doing what I do. It's something that happens. It's part of the game.''

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