Bucs fans, Kellen Winslow hears you.
The team's highest-profile offseason acquisition knows many have wondered what to make of his absence during the first week of voluntary offseason workouts. In an interview Monday, Winslow vowed to begin practicing with his new teammates next week at One Buc Place and was adamant that he is "working his butt off" to prepare for the upcoming season.
Winslow, acquired in a trade with the Browns in February, said his still-incomplete move to Tampa has been the primary reason for his absence last week and this week. He vowed to attend beginning May 26, when the Bucs begin a third week of OTAs (offseason team activities).
Winslow said he consulted with coach Raheem Morris beforehand and said ownership was made aware he would not attend the first five sessions of the offseason. Morris has expressed no concern nor has he addressed Winslow's absence specifically. He has said only that the absentees had all been in contact with the club.
Although Winslow isn't yet participating in team drills, he stressed that he is continuing his punishing personal workouts, something he does each offseason. He vowed to arrive in shape, ready to perform.
"Fans are going to have opinions, but if you know me, you now I'm working my butt off," Winslow said. "I live in San Diego. I want to be there, and I will be there."
The Bucs are implementing a new offense, one in which coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski has said Winslow will play a major role.
Winslow isn't oblivious to his public image. He knows there remain many who are skeptical about whether he has matured after youthful mistakes, especially in light of the Bucs' decision to sign him to a lucrative long-term contract that includes $20 million in guarantees.
"Fans have a right to feel the way they want," he said. But Winslow is quietly hoping a fresh start in Tampa will help him change attitudes. He's already trying to become part of the community with his June football camp, for which he says he will sponsor 150 kids from a local Boys and Girls Club (visit kellenwinslow80.com for information on the camp).
And Winslow addressed the subject of NFL Network commentator and former Tampa Bay defensive lineman Warren Sapp, who called out Winslow for his absence on the first day of OTAs a week ago.
Attending practice May 12, Sapp told reporters, "When your team fires up OTAs and you're not here, I guess you're being misunderstood again, right? Your past doesn't equal your future, but it will damn sure give me some reflection of what you might do. I'll leave it at that."
Winslow said he called Sapp later that day and explained the situation. According to Winslow, Sapp apologized and said he understood Winslow's position.
"We talked it out," Winslow said.
Asked to address projections that call for the Bucs to be losers in 2009, Winslow begged to differ.
"I can tell you Coach Morris is going to have everybody ready," he said. "I guarantee you that we'll be competitive on Sundays."
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.