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Bucs' ground game back in gear with help from vintage Cadillac BILLS VS. BUCS: Ralph Wilson Stadium * Kickoff: 4:05 p.m. TV: Ch. 29 * Radio: 96.9 FM * Latest line: Bills (+5)

The last time the Buffalo Bills faced Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, it wasn't pretty.

Williams, then a rookie, ran over and through the Bills, pummeling their defense for 128 yards (most of it after contact) and one touchdown on 24 carries in an easy, 19-3 Buccaneers home win in 2005. Williams' career has been derailed by knee injuries the last two seasons.

But he is back on track and ready to take on the Bills again Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Watching film of his 97-yard performance against the Dallas Cowboys last week, the Bills said he looks like the same guy they had so much trouble with four years ago.

"He looks like he's back to the form he was before the injuries," said Bills strong safety Bryan Scott, who saw plenty of Williams while playing in Atlanta and New Orleans in 2005 and 2006. "He's a powerful back who runs hard and has great vision and speed. He does thrive on that contact and loves to punish you. So he's going to be a challenge for our defense."

Not sure Williams would bounce back from his injuries, the Bucs signed New York Giants free agent Derrick Ward to join 2008 leading rusher Earnest Graham in the backfield.

But a healthy Williams won the starting job and is determined to keep it, if his first game is any indication.

"He runs like he has something to prove," free safety Donte Whitner said. "Those guys are the most dangerous."

Although Williams is the featured back, Ward and Graham are just as capable of hurting a defense. Ward ran for 1,025 yards as a Giants backup last season. The trio led a Bucs rushing attack that rolled up 174 yards and 5.6 yards per carry against the Cowboys.

While the Bucs have a good passing game (quarterback Byron Leftwich threw for 276 yards and a touchdown last week), the Bills are more concerned with stopping the run.

"We can't let that running game get going because then they use the bootlegs and play-action fakes," Whitner said. "As a defense, you don't want to be out there having to guess what they're doing because they have so many plays that come off the running game. So we have to stop that."

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Defensive end Aaron Schobel was held out of the Bills' practice on Thursday due to a sore lower back. He's not expected to miss the game on Sunday, but his status will be monitored the next two days. Defensive end Chris Kelsay (knee), cornerback Drayton Florence (knee) and tight end Derek Fine (hamstring) practiced on a limited basis. Head coach Dick Jauron is optimistic all three could play.

Meanwhile, the Bucs might have bigger injury issues. They already lost starting center Jeff Faine with a torn triceps muscle, and now two other starters -- wide receiver Antonio Bryant and free safety Jermaine Phillips -- are hurting. Bryant was limited in Wednesday's practice, but didn't do anything on Thursday due to a sore knee. Phillips was added to the injury report with a calf injury and was limited in practice on Thursday.

Bryant is the Bucs' best receiver, setting career highs with 83 catches and 1,248 yards last season. But he has been slowed by surgery in late August to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. He wasn't able to finish the opener against Dallas because of knee fatigue.

Losing Phillips would be troubling because the Bucs are already thin at safety with starter Tenard Jackson serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's sustance abuse policy.

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When the Bucs were studying Lee Evans prior to the 2004 draft, then-head coach Jon Gruden came up with an interesting nickname for the speedy wide receiver. Twister.

"We kind of made that up in our draft room," current head coach Raheem Morris said. "[Evans] ran so fast, he looked like a cyclone, so we called him Twister coming out of Wisconsin."

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The Bills added tight end Jonathan Stupar to the practice squad, one day after releasing him. Stupar was promoted from the practice squad to active roster for the season opener at New England because the Bills were short-handed at tight end with backup Derek Fine sidelined with an injured hamstring. Fine is expected to play Sunday.

e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com

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