TAMPA, Fla. – Kellen Winslow hasn't forgotten Cleveland, but he has moved on.
The former Browns tight end faces his old team for the first time Sunday when he begins his second season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Yet the seventh-year pro insists it won't feel different from any other game.
"It's really just another team. It's a blessing to be here. It's where I want to be. I'm fortunate," said Winslow," who spent five often tumultuous seasons with the Browns before being traded to Tampa Bay in February 2009.
"Everything that went on up there with Cleveland was a growing process for me. I really grew up and matured. It was hard up there because we weren't winning a lot and it was just frustrating at times. But I'm here now and I'm having fun."
The 27-year-old son of Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow had a pair of 80-catch seasons for the Browns but couldn't escape the perception of being a talented but troublesome player.
Despite impressive statistics, he received as much attention for a career-threatening motorcycle accident and squabbling with the front office.
Short of playmakers, the Bucs welcomed Winslow with welcome arms. The one-time Pro Bowl selection is making the most of a fresh start.
The Bucs acquired Winslow in exchange for a second-round draft pick in 2009 and a fifth-rounder this year, then signed him to a $36.1 million contract extension that made him one of the highest paid tight ends in the NFL.
The 6-foot-4, 240-pounder has overcome surgery on both knees, suffered a broken leg that ended his rookie season and received injuries from the motorcycle crash that sidelined him in 2005.
A year ago, he led Tampa Bay with 77 receptions for 884 yards (both club records for a tight end) and five touchdowns. He also led the team in receiving yards eight times and led or tied for the lead in receptions in 12 of 16 games.
Teammates laud his toughness. They rave about his work ethic and willingness to do whatever it takes to stay on the field.
Recovering from his sixth knee surgery, Winslow sat out numerous practices during training camp and had just a few snaps during a single preseason game.
Bucs coach Raheem Morris acknowledged the tight end receives special treatment. But he doesn't apologize for it.
"It's very hard for me to complain about the things that he has not done. All he did was come here and break a record (for tight ends) we had standing for a long time," Morris said.
The coach said Winslow was one of the bright spots of a season that wasn't great last year.
"I look forward to better and bigger things from him this year," Morris said.
The deal sending Winslow to the Browns was made a little than a month after Eric Mangini was hired as coach. Mangini said he did not meet Winslow before the trade and revealed little about what went into the decision to unload one of the team's top players.
"It was an opportunity from a trade perspective that we talked about, and it's the decision that we made at that point," Mangini said. "Look, he's a very good player and I really respect the things that he does as a player."
Browns rookie safety T.J. Ward will draw the assignment of covering Winslow on Sunday. He knows it's a tall order.
"He's a very good, athletic tight end. He has great hands. He's physical," Ward said. "I'm studying a lot of film on him, and I'm just going to go in there and try to compete. I'm trying to offset my immaturity or lack of experience by a lot of study."
While Winslow said he doesn't have any special feeling about facing his old team, Morris isn't buying it.
"I'm sure he has some fuel. I'm sure he has something hidden away, some articles stowed away somewhere, something that was said negative about this young man," Morris said. "That's what gets him going. That's who Kellen is. ... He goes out. He prepares, he practices, he plays, he loves the game. He'll use anything for motivation. That's the kind of guy he is."
AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this report.