TAMPA — During a conversation last week with Bucs TE Kellen Winslow, talk turned to this being a rare offseason in which he hasn't undergone knee surgery.
So, Kellen, when was the last time that happened?
"Last year — I think," he said. "No, wait. I did have one last year. I've had so many, I just forget."
He eventually settled on 2008 as the answer. After five surgeries and years of enduring intense pain he rarely acknowledges, Winslow is learning what works and what doesn't on his battered right knee. And he knows when to go hard and when to lay off.
Given that, Winslow's performance in recent player-only lockout workouts can be viewed only as encouraging. He says his knee feels as good as it has in years, so now's the time to push.
"Last year I was hurting, but I know how to rehab my knee better," Winslow said after a 90-minute workout in Tampa. "I feel good. I feel as ready as I can be right now."
He says that has rarely been the case.
Winslow recalled the early days after his trade to Tampa Bay from the Browns in 2009, when he was criticized by fans for not attending some of the voluntary organized team activity workouts. But Winslow said he had a valid reason.
"I didn't feel like my knee was where it should be, so I needed to rehab back in San Diego," he said.
Winslow averaged 72 receptions in his first two seasons with the Bucs, and there's reason to believe he can maintain that if he continues to manage his knee pain.
That task has gotten easier, Winslow said, because he has learned to properly use an advanced muscle stimulation machine. Last season, he said, he used it incorrectly.
"It was affecting my knee in a certain way," Winslow said. "But I've learned how to use the machine better, so my knee feels better."
LOCKOUT WORKOUTS: Bucs players are conducting player-only workouts as the lockout pushes past two months. The sessions are hardly a replacement for offseason practices at One Buc Place supervised by coaches, but here are a few observations:
• The quarterbacks are definitely a unit. All three have been participating, and that includes studying video of last season's and this season's opponents while trying to perfect some common throws in the playbook. There is a real emphasis on leadership, though Josh Freeman, Josh Johnson and Rudy Carpenter are 25 or younger.
• WR Sammie Stroughter never got going last season, one year after he had a strong rookie season. He had 24 receptions in 2010, but because of nagging injuries, he caught just nine balls in the final nine games. Stroughter has been working out during these practices, and he looks ready to make his presence known again. He's still a great option in the slot because he's adept at getting open against zone coverage.
• Don't get caught up in attendance. One day last week, about two dozen players were participating, but attendance varies wildly from day to day. That's mainly because players have lives.
Even if the Bucs were doing organized team activities, they would be going only three days a week, with a total of 14 sessions spread over several weeks.
Also, many young players don't have permanent residences in Tampa. With the lockout creating uncertainty, players who aren't highly paid have been reluctant to sign leases locally because they don't know when they'll be back to work. Maintaining a residence in their home city while also juggling a rental in the Tampa Bay area can get pricey.
• The workouts have been dominated by offensive players, largely because Freeman and the other quarterbacks have been spearheading them. But Freeman said as the summer goes on, there are plans to incorporate defensive players, which will allow for more realistic drills.
A number of linebackers — Quincy Black, Dakoda Watson and Tyrone McKenzie — have been around. And tackle Gerald McCoy organized some workouts with several defensive linemen last week in San Diego.
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.