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Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Kellen Winslow lives up to early hype

TAMPA — The moment the question is delivered, Luke McCown's eyes light up as though he couldn't wait to address the subject.

The Buccaneers quarterback was asked if he ever finds himself admiring the ability of newly acquired tight end Kellen Winslow. McCown responds with a story told with the giddiness of a youth leaguer fresh off his first touchdown.

"Absolutely! He made a catch two weeks ago where I threw a back-shoulder throw on a fade (route). I threw it short because it was good coverage, and (Winslow) reaches back with one hand and makes the grab. It was unbelievable."

But for another version of the story, ask the man who had the best vantage point: safety Sabby Piscitelli, the defender on the play.

"I was like, 'He caught that?' " Piscitelli recalled. "I went back to the film room and, as competitive as I am, I was mad for six hours after that. But I went back to the film, and there was really nothing else I could have done. … A catch like that, you just have to go back and say, 'That was a heck of a catch.' "

So, you want to know how Winslow is fitting in with his new team? The men he will play alongside will tell you he seems right at home after his trade in late February.

About the only disagreement is whether he's more receiver than tight end or vice versa. Really, the answer is whatever the Bucs want it to be.

But on this there is total agreement: Winslow, 25, will be used extensively. Offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski said he believes in widespread use of his tight ends, and, being a former tight ends coach with the Packers and Falcons, he is intimately familiar with the position.

"I've been very, very fortunate with the guys that I've had," Jagodzinski said. "I had Bubba Franks as a rookie (in Green Bay). I had Alge Crumpler (in Atlanta), who was as good a tight end as I've been around. Now Jerramy (Stevens) and Kellen.

"I use those guys a lot. Quite a bit."

For his part, Winslow isn't ready to make proclamations. Ask him about his potential to loom large in the offense and you'll likely get vanilla answers.

"We (tight ends) just have to make plays," he said. "We're just a piece to the puzzle."

Albeit a big piece.

Winslow's cautious approach isn't surprising given the tumults of his career. Injuries have taken a toll. Just two of his five seasons have been uninterrupted, but he averaged 86 receptions in those two campaigns with the Browns. The Bucs are banking on Winslow's ability to stay healthy given their decision to sign him to the league's biggest tight end contract, a $36 million deal that includes incentives that give him the potential to earn $42 million.

The Bucs are reluctant to admit it publicly, but there's no hiding the fact their receiving corps is thin and inexperienced. Enter Winslow, who the Bucs believe can help fill that gap by essentially functioning as a third receiver.

"We have Kellen playing everything," receiver Michael Clayton said. "He's playing tight end, he's out wide. … His routes are amazing, man. He's basically a receiver. He knows everything about coverages. He's an intelligent guy and knows a lot about the game.

"You can see why he's so special."

Clayton is one of just three receivers on the roster to start more than 10 games in his career. The others are franchise player Antonio Bryant and Kelly Campbell. Campbell's last NFL action came in 2004.

The need for a player with Winslow's receiving abilities is clear, but he is interested in being more than just one-dimensional. Alfredo Roberts, Winslow's position coach in Cleveland, said the 6-4, 250-pound Winslow has aspirations of being more well-rounded as a tight end. He should get the chance playing for a team intent on running the ball.

"He's fought really hard to kind of fight that image of not being a (physical) guy," Roberts said. "He's actually been getting on me because he wants more opportunities to be a guy who can be an in-line guy. … We have no fear in letting him mix it up inside. If he's standing next to me, then I'm doing the other team a favor. And he'll let me know that."

But make no mistake, Winslow's greatest asset will be his ability to move the chains.

"He's a big receiver. Don't let him fool you," Piscitelli said. "But it's a good (test) for me. When he splits out wide like that, if I see that in a game, it's not going to be harder than that. I'll tell you that right now."

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Kellen Winslow lives up to early hype 06/20/09 [Last modified: Sunday, June 21, 2009 7:26am]
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