TAMPA — Each time Bucs receiver Kelly Campbell reads a headline about an NFL player who has been arrested or otherwise gotten into trouble, he can't help but immediately think about the potential consequences.
"There's a lot of stuff going around with guys in the league right now," he said. "They're losing their opportunity."
Take it from Campbell, who has wasted his fair share of chances. He joined the Bucs in February after a series of misdeeds helped force him to spend a year in the Canadian Football League.
Back in an NFL uniform — for now — Campbell knows if he's going to stick around, it had better be now given the Bucs' wide-open race at receiver and his age (29 on opening day).
"That's how I'm taking this opportunity, like this is my last chance," he said. "I'm really thankful for God opening up another door for me to have this opportunity."
Campbell was arrested on gun and drug charges in 2005 and 2007. The first, for marijuana possession and possessing a stolen handgun, was resolved in a plea deal. Campbell said this week his second arrest, for possession of marijuana and ecstasy, was dismissed before he joined the Bucs.
He failed a drug test at the NFL combine in 2002 and as a result wasn't drafted out of Georgia Tech (where his 195 career catches are still a school record and his 2,907 yards and 24 touchdowns are second).
Campbell, however, is regarded as a burner who can exploit single coverage, something he did regularly last year in the CFL with the Edmonton Eskimos. At 5 feet 10, 175 pounds, he led the league in yards per catch (22.6) and says he still runs 40 yards in well under 4.4 seconds. The race for the team's fastest receiver, he believes, comes down to him and second-year man Dexter Jackson.
Speed, offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski said, is something even the best coaches can't teach.
Said coach Raheem Morris: "You see elite speed. You see a guy who can get downfield and make plays. You see a guy (who is) not afraid."
Likewise, the Bucs didn't shy away from a player with a 1,223-yard CFL season and checkered past who says he has changed.
"Once I left the CFL, I had a couple of good teams that wanted to bring me in, but my situation off the field was still going on," he said, referring to the 2007 arrest. "I believe that the league had told the teams that with my case still pending, I would (possibly) be suspended. So teams kind of turned their backs. I had to get that taken care of. The only team I worked out for was Tampa. They stuck with me."
The NFL once seemed so far away — a recurring quadriceps injury also contributed to him being out of football from 2005-07 — the phone call from the Bucs reduced Campbell to tears. If he continues to avoid trouble, the Bucs, fairly unsettled at receiver beyond veterans Antonio Bryant and Michael Clayton, might be willing to stick with him when it counts, in the regular season.
And though his last NFL catch was in 2004 with the Vikings, Campbell has more of a track record — 57 catches and 1,062 yards in 37 games — than most of the second-tier receivers with whom he's competing.
But none of that will matter if he gets in trouble again. No one knows that better than Campbell.
"It's never been my talent that's kept me off the field," he said. "It's always been off-the-field issues. I'm a changed man, and I've learned my lessons. Basically, it's about making better decisions on who I surround myself with, my friends and the places I go and things I do.
"I have a (daughter) to take care of now, and the only way I'm going to do that is if I'm on the football field doing what I love to do."