Brian Kelly has put his toe behind him.
The Bucs cornerback had surgery last November for turf toe, which ended his season. The surgery was a success, Kelly said, and he's back in training camp ready to make up for lost time.
"It was important for me to get the surgery," he said. "I don't think it was an issue of toughness or fighting through, it was just I couldn't be functional and play the way I wanted to play."
Now, he's back in form and ready to go, Kelly said. That's good news for the Bucs. Since 2002, with Kelly as a starter, the Bucs are 32-25. Without him, they're 9-16.
Kelly's play, along with that of Ronde Barber and Phillip Buchanon, has head coach Jon Gruden seeing visions of a rebounding pass defense. Buchanon joined the Buccaneers in midseason and struggled, at times, to grasp the scheme.
"The opportunity to have Brian Kelly back is going to, without a doubt, help our football team, and Phillip Buchanon is going to make our team much better also, I believe," he said.
Kelly also has high hopes – and high standards – for the defense, which had been ranked in the NFL's Top 10 for nine straight seasons before last year.
"It is a lot like two years ago (2005), when we didn't play the way we wanted to play, and we came back and were the No. 1 defense," Kelly said. "We know what we have to do. We have enough veterans around here that know what it takes to get back to the level of defense that we are used to playing.
"We are not happy with 17. We are not happy with 10. We like to be in the top five every year, and that is the standard here. We just have to get ready to get back to that."
Tampa Bay sought to infuse the defense with some youth this offseason, resulting in seven defensive selections in the draft, out of its 10 picks. Kelly said the veterans are working with those younger players, and is impressed with their preparation, since some of them may play major roles immediately.
"This playbook is not extensive, but it is a lot of detail and it is a lot of technique involved," he said. "They spent a lot of time on the field this summer getting ready, and when you watch them out on the field, they are rookies, and they are a little tentative to make plays, but some of the guys are going out there and just busting their butt and trying to do what they can do to make a presence because they know what it takes to make this defense."
"Those guys are really going to be able to make some plays for us and it is going to push Jermaine [Phillips] and Will [Allen], which is something they probably need, too," he said.