Bucs' Williams runs away with Offensive Rookie award


Published: Thursday, January 5, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 5, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
TAMPA - Lofty goals and plenty of self-confidence barely prepared Carnell Williams for all the success he's had in his first NFL season.
The sleek, fast and powerful running back nicknamed "Cadillac" not only burst onto the scene in record-breaking fashion but helped transform the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from also-ran to NFC South champions.
In doing so, he also ran away with The Associated Press Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
"I'm one of those people who believes in goals, so I set them high," Williams said. "I wanted to come in and run for well over 1,000 yards, win Rookie of the Year, go to the playoffs and win the Super Bowl."
He's three-quarters of the way through that list. The resurgent Bucs (11-5) begin pursuit of the remaining objective when they host the Washington Redskins on Saturday in the NFC wild-card round.
Williams, who rushed for 1,178 yards and six touchdowns, drew 47 votes Wednesday from a nationwide panel of 50 sports writers and broadcasters who cover the NFL. His running mate at Auburn, Ronnie Brown of the Dolphins, received one vote, as did tight end Heath Miller of Pittsburgh and offensive lineman Logan Mankins of New England.
"It's an award he's obviously earned. It's a reflection of him and his family, the kind of worker he is. But it also reflects our team," coach Jon Gruden said. "He's got a lot more awards coming if he keeps doing what he's doing. I promise you that."
Williams moved into the starting lineup immediately and became the first player in league history to begin his career with three consecutive 100-yard games, including a season-high 158 against Green Bay.
Later, he overcame a foot sprain to pull out of a midseason slump and help the Bucs surge past Atlanta and Carolina to win their first division title since Tampa Bay won the Super Bowl three seasons ago.
Williams, who endeared himself to teammates with a humble attitude, refused to use the injury as an excuse for a dropoff in production during a stretch in which he was held to 29 yards or less four times.
"I think that's a coward's way to say I'm not playing good because of my ankle or my foot, blah, blah, blah. I was out there on the field and I was playing. I just wasn't playing well," he said.
The shoes and gloves the rookie wore against Green Bay were shipped to the Pro Football Hall of Fame after Williams broke Alan Ameche's 50-year-old record for yards rushing by a rookie in his first three games.
At the height of his slump, which raised questions about his heavy workload, Williams joked that Hall officials might be ready to return the memorabilia. Four days later, he ran for 116 yards to key a win at Atlanta.
"The first part of the season I got off on such a hot start that I surprised myself. I was like: 'Wow. Hall of Fame. Breaking records I didn't even know about. I never dreamed for it to be like this,' " Williams said.
"Then I had that slump. ... But even through those times, I just told myself it's going to be some bumps in the road, I'm just going to have to deal with it. Now, late in the season, I'm starting to come back on, get things going. I wouldn't change nothing. Even the down time, it made me a better person."
  • DEFENSIVE ROOKIE: Shawne Merriman's relentless style of play made an immediate mark in the NFL.
    The San Diego linebacker, known as "Lights Out" for his hard hits and aggressive demeanor, received 28 votes Wednesday from a nationwide panel of sports writers and broadcasters who cover the league. He easily beat Seattle linebacker Lofa Tatupu, who got 16.
    All the players receiving votes played linebacker in some form this season. Behind Merriman and Tatupu were Odell Thurman of Cincinnati with four votes and DaMarcus Ware of Dallas with one.
    While all of them were standouts, Merriman showed the most explosiveness and made more spotlight-grabbing plays.
    After being picked 12th in the draft out of Maryland, Merriman had a shaky start with the Chargers when his agent held him out of offseason workouts until he signed a contract. Despite fears of protracted negotiations, he missed only a week of training camp before signing a deal potentially worth $15.73 million, with $9 million guaranteed.
    Merriman caused some concern when he hurt his knee in the final exhibition game and missed the season opener. He made up for it with a succession of big plays for the Chargers, especially after becoming a starter on Oct. 23 at Philadelphia.
    "I think anybody who goes as high as I did in the draft should be planning to be a game-changer, point blank," he said. "I figured somewhere down the line, if I learned fast enough and stuck by these older guys, sit back and learn as much as I could, that I could get out here and perform, that was really it. I've got a bunch of great teammates, and you almost can't go wrong being around those guys, with their years of experience."
    Merriman finished with a team-high 10 sacks among his 54 tackles. He made his biggest headlines when San Diego handed Indianapolis its first loss in Game 14. Merriman sacked Peyton Manning twice, including once with a monster swipe at Manning's legs.
    "I didn't know I took him completely off his feet with one swipe. When that happened, I just looked and said, 'Man, that was a cool play.' It took me a while before I realized I still had to do the 'Lights Out' dance because I didn't know I sacked him," the extroverted Merriman said.
    Even Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer would chuckle at Merriman's words of wisdom.
    "Shawne, of course, he's something," Schottenheimer said. "He's an extremely talented young man who brings it every snap.
    "I frankly told him that he surpassed my expectations. I thought he played extremely well. He's very, very competitive. He's bright. Given the fact he went through a number of circumstances prior to getting the opportunity to come in and start and play, I was pleasantly surprised."
    Merriman is the first Chargers player to win the award. He also is the third straight linebacker and fifth in the last six years to win.
    Last year's top rookie defender was Jonathan Vilma of the Jets.
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