Leave it up to a guy like Kellen Winslow. After all, he has a reputation for being a loudmouth. He’s publicly criticized coaches and teammates. He’s violated terms of his contract by riding a motorcycle, which he wrecked in 2005, causing him to miss significant time.
And he’s found a way to leave all his baggage in Cleveland.
Winslow set the Buccaneer single-season record for catches by a tight end with his 68th grab of the year in a win over Seattle on Sunday. His 68 catches and five touchdowns both lead the team, and his 752 receiving yards are not only a team-high, but second in team history at the position.
And he’s managed to do it without saying a word, without causing a scene and without slowing down. A far cry from the player he was in Cleveland and while at the University of Miami.
He’s also changed the tight end position in Tampa Bay, and he’s done it largely without help from the receiving corps. With the exception of sporadic big plays from Antonio Bryant and rookie Sammie Stroughter, opposing defenses have not had any threats other than Winslow to focus on, which makes his 2009 numbers even more impressive.
Winslow established a rapport with rookie quarterback Josh Freeman early in practice after he took over the starting job in Week 9, and he continues to be a leader in the clubhouse and on the field for the young quarterback.
"I have a number of leaders on the offense," Freeeman said, "and Kellen does a great job of articulating what’s going on out on the field. It’s like having two sets of eyes out on the field."
There was backlash when the Bucs traded a second- and fifth-round pick for the troubled tight end. Most talked about his big contract. Some talked about his health. Others talked about his attitude. Few talked about his playmaking ability.
Now, the conversation has changed.
At 26, Winslow likely has some good years still ahead of him, and he is slowly becoming a cornerstone for the Bucs’ young offense. And if his demeanor this season is any indication, when the rebuilding transitions to contention, you won’t hear him say much. His numbers will be loud enough on their own.