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Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Kellen Winslow rebuilds reputation on rebuilding team

TAMPA — Admit it. You weren't sure what to make of Kellen Winslow.

Be honest. By now you figured he would have crashed a Suzuki into the lobby of One Buc Place, wearing fatigues and lobbying for more passes.

Confess. At the least, you believed that sending two draft picks to Cleveland and making the sixth-year player out of Miami the NFL's highest-paid tight end meant he wouldn't get out of training camp with two healthy knees.

"Somebody earlier was talking to me about Kellen," tight end John Gilmore said, "and I told (Winslow), 'I'm always defending you in the public eye.' "

That's what you get with Winslow: a lot of misperceptions and plenty of receptions. Through the team's 0-5 start, he has been the most reliable player on the roster.

He leads the team in catches (26, on pace for 83) and receiving yards (257). His four touchdowns are tied for the league lead with guys such as Larry Fitzgerald (Cardinals), Andre Johnson (Texans), Reggie Wayne (Colts), Steve Smith (Giants) and Brandon Marshall (Broncos), and none of those guys plays tight end.

Instead of giving incendiary quotes, Winslow has been Forrest Gump humble.

"I'm just trying to do my job and help the team win," Winslow said. "That's really all I can do. It's not showing, but we're trying to come together, man, and just keep grinding and trying to get our first win."

That's not to say Winslow still doesn't have to work at holding back his emotions once in a while.

"Here's a good example," Gilmore said. "When Kellen first got here, I had him over to the house. … And he's excited. He's excited to be here, be around the guys, be around a new team. He sees his opportunity where he can make plays. He's like, 'Gilly, fourth and 12. I need to be in there.' I look at the dude like, 'Fourth and 12? We're punting the ball.' But that's the way he operates, that's the way he thinks, and it's good to be around a guy like that."

Once in a while, the Cloud 9 Winslow lives on evaporates.

He failed to stretch for a first down against the Giants on Sept. 27 and heard about it. He wasn't always on the practice field in time for stretching with teammates and was reminded of it. In training camp, coach Raheem Morris rode the tidal wave of Winslow's emotions.

"He is playing well. He is controlling his passion. He is buying in," Morris said. "He's one of those guys. He believes in himself. He's out there practicing every day, no matter what his aches and pains are. He's doing a great job of fighting his own demons. Whatever his demons are, whether it's his passion or wanting the ball or referring to another tight end, he's fighting all those demons.

"He's not necessarily the rah-rah leader to bring everybody with him. He's kind of the leader by example, the way he practices, the tempo he sets. You can't always listen to what Kellen has to say, but you may want to do some of the things he's doing."

Gilmore said he has learned a lot by watching Winslow, 26, dissect defenses.

"You can't question the guy's love for the game," Gilmore, 30, said. "In fact, I've never witnessed anything like that, and I've played with a few good tight ends. … Man, he's a student of the game. He loves the game of football. I've often said his greatest asset can be his biggest downfall because he gets so involved in the game. But you definitely have to respect that in a player, somebody you don't have to question his commitment."

In return, the Bucs want to be more committed to getting the 6 feet 4, 240-pound Winslow the football.

"He's a tremendous athlete," offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. "And we've got to make sure he's the No. 1 or No. 2 in the progression in a lot of what we do."

So 'fess up. You were wrong about Kellen Winslow. Because acquiring him seems to be one of the things the Bucs got right this season.

. fast facts

Winslow's woes

2004: Breaks his right leg two games into his rookie season

2005: Tears the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in a motorcycle accident in May, battles a six-week staph infection and is sidelined for the year

2007: Has microfracture surgery on his right knee in January

2008: Is hospitalized with a staph infection and misses six games

On TV

The Bucs' game against the Panthers on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium will be televised on Ch. 13, the team said Wednesday. Enough tickets had been sold to satisfy the NFL's requirement of a sellout 72 hours before the 1 p.m. kickoff. But tickets remain available, suggesting an arrangement is in place for the purchase of unsold tickets. The Bucs have not had a game blacked out locally since 1997.

Stephen F. Holder, Times staff writer

Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Kellen Winslow rebuilds reputation on rebuilding team 10/14/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 14, 2009 10:22pm]
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