Bucs' Winslow striving to be the best

TAMPA, Fla. -- A bright spot in an otherwise dismal season for the struggling Tampa Bay Buccaneers, one-time Pro Bowl tight end Kellen Winslow is making the most of a fresh start with his new team.

The sixth-year pro has been the club's most consistent player on offense, leading the Bucs (1-8) in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns, while also dispelling the notion Tampa Bay took on a talented but troublesome player when they obtained him from Cleveland in an offseason trade.

Winslow had a pair of 80-catch seasons with the Browns, but received more attention for the career-threatening motorcycle accident that sidelined him in 2005 and squabbling with the front office last year.

The accident came after he missed most of his rookie season in 2004 with a leg injury, and doctors told him he would never play again.

Winslow was devastated. He credits his wife, Janelle, and his family with helping him through the difficult time, during which he says he briefly contemplated suicide.

"I come into the league, all this potential, all the accolades. I get hurt the second game of the year against Dallas. Never been injured before. Come back. Get a motorcycle, I think of Jason Williams the moment I buy it," Winslow said, referring to the former NBA player whose career was cut short by a motorcycle accident.

"I said, `Man, that's not going to happen to me.' A month and a half later, I make one mistake on the bike and my whole life changes. I really thought of suicide, to be honest. But my wife was right there by my side. My family was right there by my side. ... I didn't let it beat me."

Teammates and coaches rave about his work ethic and passion for the game. And, Winslow has gone about his business quietly and avoided generating the negative headlines that haunted him in five seasons with the Browns.

"I got a fresh start here. I couldn't ask for anything better," said Winslow, who leads the Bucs with 42 receptions for 454 yards and five TDs - one more than Tampa Bay's wide receivers have as a group.

"Our record is what it is, but I'm truly happy. You look around and guys are really having fun around here. ... We are what we are, but there's just a lot of positive energy around here."

Despite Tampa Bay's slow start under first-year coach Raheem Morris, Winslow is convinced the Bucs are headed in the right direction - and he feels fortunate to be part of what Morris is trying to build.

The 26-year-old son of Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow signed a $36.1 contract extension in April, making him the highest-paid tight end in the NFL.

Although he's worked with three different starting quarterbacks this season, he's excited about the prospect of rookie Josh Freeman developing into the type of player who can help him realize his potential.

Winslow, whose stay in Cleveland was marked by plenty of highs, lows and controversy, is on pace to finish with 75 catches for more 800 yards and nine touchdowns.

"I want to be the best, plain and simple. That's why I play the game. That's it," said Winslow, who had the second 100-yard game of 2009, and sixth of his career, during Sunday's 25-23 loss to the Miami Dolphins.

"I was born into this. I see my dad, this god figure growing up and that's what I wanted to be like. Ever since I can remember, ever since I was like four or five, this is what I've wanted to do, and I'm doing it. ... I'm going to take the most advantage of it that I can."

The Bucs acquired Winslow in exchange for a second-round pick in this year's draft and a fifth-rounder in 2010. His next contract includes $20.1 million guaranteed, a record for a tight end, and could be worth up to $42.1 million with incentives.

Winslow has maintained a low profile off the field. He's rarely granted interviews since arriving in Tampa Bay, in part because of negative perceptions of him lingering from a comment he made in college at Miami, where he once likened himself to a "soldier."

"To make a long story short, the whole solider thing I learned a whole lot from. I was 19 years old, and Kellen Winslow's son says something and it gets magnified," he said. "It seems like everything I say, good or bad, gets magnified. I learned to just stay quiet and just play ball."

In addition to being driven by his father's accomplishments, Winslow studies film of today's best tight ends, including Tony Gonzalez, Jason Witten and Antonio Gates. He tries draws a little from each and tries to incorporate various things they do well into his game.

He enjoyed some success in Cleveland and is off to a promising start in Tampa Bay, but feels like he's barely scratched the surface of his potential.

"If I ended my career today, I've done nothing. I've done what a lot of other tight ends have done," Winslow said. "That's no disrespect to them. But I have higher goals."

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