Kelly: "I'm full go now"

Rumors have swirled all season about cornerback Brian Kelly's future. But, in the end, Kelly was back in Tampa Bay mini-camp preparing for his 10th NFL season. While he's reluctant to talk about his contract, he is clear that he's ready to go for training camp and the 2007 season.

It would be easy to say that cornerback Brian Kelly's career may be at a crossroads.

He has as much experience as his All-Pro brethren, Ronde Barber. But Tiki's twin is much more highly regarded in pro football circles, thanks to being the first cornerback to register at least 20 tackles and 20 sacks in a career.

Yet, while Barber has 31 career interceptions, Kelly doesn't lag that far behind at 20.

Who was it that led the Bucs in interceptions during the Super Bowl season in 2002? It was Kelly.

And who's attendance (31-25) or absence (8-16) at Buccaneers games since 2002 seems to have a direct correlation on the team's record? Kelly.

Yet there is a perception that Kelly is unhappy with his base salary — $2.6 million. It's nice money, it's just not elite cornerback money. Then again, maybe it's not just perception. When asked about getting a new contract earlier this offseason, Kelly said, "That would be nice."

So rumors swelled this offseason that Kelly might hold out of training camp because of the contract, in spite of the disaster it turned out to be for wide receiver Keenan McCardell in 2004. Or that he might be dealt to Detroit to aid in getting the Lions' No. 2 overall pick to take wide receiver Calvin Johnson.

There were also rumors that Kelly was missing voluntary workouts because of the contract. Note the word "voluntary." Kelly did show up for a few, but mainly stayed with his family on the west coast (which is his normal modus operandi in the offseason, he said).

So Kelly showed up when he was supposed to on Tuesday for this week's mandatory mini-camp. He missed Wednesday's practice with what head coach Jon Gruden termed a "bruise," but was never more specific.

Kelly said Tuesday he didn't regret signing that six-year contract he signed after the 2001 season, long before it became in vogue to overpay cornerbacks. But it's clear the talk of his contract still rankles him.

"No (I don't regret it)," Kelly said. "No. I'd rather not touch that because it's a sensitive subject to a lot of people right now."

The talk last October was of a possible trade, of throwing in the towel on the then-nine year vet. Turf toe basically claimed his season, and surgery repaired the injury, but not in time for last season.

So Kelly is back, 100 percent, and not surprised that he's back in Tampa Bay.

"Good year, bad year — It's all about numbers," Kelly said. "That's what the league is about now. My number was apparently good enough to bring me back."

Two numbers stand out. That salary and those interceptions. If Kelly can fully shed last year's injury and regain his 2005 form, then he, Barber and Phillip Buchanon could be a formidable trio of cornerbacks.

But Kelly's injury woes are probably why the Buccaneers chose to sit him during Tuesday morning's workout, and keep him at the facility for Wednesday's workout. Kelly knocked knees with a wide receiver on Tuesday, a likely cause of the "bruise."

Kelly will also likely get the Buccaneers' "veteran treatment," which is to say he'll probably get several training camp practices off.

"I'm full go now, but I'm going to play smart and take care of it today," Kelly said on Tuesday.

Because tomorrow — specifically the regular season — is what actually matters.

Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. Included among his more than two dozen writing and editing awards are national awards from the PFWA, the National Newspaper Association and the Associated Press Sports Editors, and state awards from the Florida Press Club and the Florida Sports Writers Association, for his coverage of the Buccaneers since 2004.

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