Over the past few years, Tampa Bay has had a couple instances of turning wayward NFL souls into productive contributors to the Buccaneers with the likes of tight end Jerramy Stevens and wide receiver Antonio Bryant.
Could wide receiver Kelly Campbell be the Bucs’ next successful reclamation project?
This offseason, Tampa Bay signed Campbell, 28, to a one-year deal worth $535,000 in base salary after he spent the 2008 season with the Edmonton Eskimos in the Canadian Football League, catching 58 passes for 1,223 yards and seven touchdowns while leading the CFL with a 22.6-yard avg.
After a couple arrests on drug-related charges derailed his chances of playing in the NFL with stints in Minnesota and Miami, Campbell finally gave in to the notion of playing in the CFL as a means to showcase his skills and resurrect his NFL career. The experience of playing minor-league football humbled Campbell and forced him to mature and make better decisions with his life.
“It really did,” Campbell said. “It was a very hard decision for me because the CFL was after me for a very long time. Each year I was telling them 'No' because I didn’t look at myself as a CFL player. I think going so far away from my family across country really humbled me and it showed me that I can go out here and do it and stay out of trouble and do what I’m supposed to do. I’m glad I had the experience.
“Just watching other receivers (in the NFL) go out there – even young receivers – and show (their stuff), I said, ‘That should be me.’ I was going to do what I needed to do in the CFL and try to get my opportunity back here to show guys that I can come back here and play.”
Campbell said he has become more spiritual since the NFL turned its back on him in 2007 and that he is thankful that Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik has given him another chance.
“I thank God, first of all, for opening up another door for me,” Campbell said. “Going to the CFL and being able to go up there and showcase my talents got me another opportunity back in the league. The NFL is always what I dreamed of being in. I thank Tampa Bay for giving me the opportunity once again. I’m just taking the opportunity to show them that I can play and I can be a good receiver and help this team win ballgames.”
So what is the key for Campbell to have success in Tampa Bay?
“Just staying out of trouble, basically,” Campbell said. “It’s never been my talent that has kept me off the field. It’s always off-the-field issues. I’m a changed man now. I’ve learned my lessons. Now I am ready to play some football.
“Just making better decisions – decisions on who I surround myself with, my friends and the places I go and the things I do. My daughter is a big key to my change. I’ve got a family to take care of right now and the only way I’m going to be able to do that is to be out on the football field doing what I love to do.”
The 5-foot-11, 175-pound Campbell signed with the Vikings as an undrafted free agent in 2002, but was released in 2005 and spent that year out of the NFL after being arrested for marijuana possession and possession of a stolen handgun. The Miami Dolphins came calling in ’06, and he was in the mix for the number three receiver spot behind Chris Chambers and Marty Booker before a quadriceps injury derailed that opportunity. The Dolphins waived Campbell after he received an injury settlement.
He was re-signed by Miami in 2007, but was released prior to training camp after he was arrested for possession of marijuana and ecstasy. Campbell said that the charges in that case were dismissed earlier this offseason, which cleared the path for him to re-join an NFL team after his big year up in Canada had drawn a lot of attention his way.
“Everything’s clear,” Campbell said. “The case got dismissed. I’m fine and all that is behind me. I’m looking forward.
“Once I left the CFL, I had a number of good teams that wanted to bring me in, but of course with my situation off-the-field still going on, I believe the league told the team that had I been signed with my case still pending that I would be suspended. Some teams turned their backs. I had to get that taken care of first. The only team I worked out for was Tampa. They stuck with me and we did what we were supposed to do in terms of getting the case dismissed. They stuck with me and told me they were going to sign me and they did.”
Campbell was emotional when Dominik offered him a one-year deal on February 19.
“It was exciting,” Campbell said. “I cried that day, to be honest with you. Everybody doesn’t get that opportunity and now I’m going to take advantage of it.”
With the release of 38-year old Joey Galloway, the Buccaneers needed another speed receiver to challenge last year’s second-round pick, Dexter Jackson, who struggled mightily as a rookie and is no lock to make the 53-man roster this year, which is why Dominik and head coach Raheem Morris signed Campbell.
“That was one of the receivers I was going to tell you about last week – Kelly Campbell,” Morris said. “Kelly Campbell, Dexter Jackson, Brian Clark and it was Hank last week. This week, a young man by the name of Stroughter jumped into that mix. That second tier of wideouts has stepped up and they are competing.
“You see elite speed (with Campbell). You see a guy that can get downfield and make plays. You see a guy not afraid. You just hope he can take it over to the pads.”
Despite running the 40-yard dash in the 4.3 range, Campbell, Joe Hamilton’s favorite target at Georgia Tech, tested positive for marijuana at the Combine, which killed his draft stock. After signing with the Vikings as an undrafted free agent, he saw action in six games as a rookie, catching 13 passes for 176 yards and three TDs. Campbell started six games the next year, catching 25 passes for 522 yards and four scores. He also returned five kicks for 101 yards and used his blazing speed to carry the ball 10 times for 71 yards.
In 2004, Campbell started three games while appearing in all 16, catching 19 passes for 364 yards and a touchdown. He also averaged 21.7 yards on 35 kick returns.
Even though he turns 29 in July, Campbell hasn’t slowed down one bit as his CFL opponents found out last year, and Tampa Bay’s secondary is finding out this spring.
“I haven’t ran a 40 in a long time, but I’m probably still in the low 4.3-mark,” Campbell said. “Keeping my speed is something I work on all offseason and during the season – year round. That’s the key to my success.”
When asked if he was the fastest Buc in camp, Campbell replied: “Right now, I’m probably in competition with Dexter Jackson, but it definitely sets us apart. That’s what they were looking for – to bring some guys in here that have speed and can make some plays. Hopefully, I can be one of those guys.”
Campbell also wants to be a comeback story along the likes of Stevens and Bryant, who have stayed out of trouble in Tampa Bay, flourished on the field and have earned multiple contracts from the Buccaneers.
“That was one of the things that Mark Dominik and Doug Williams talked to me about,” Campbell said. “I’m kind of in the same position as Antonio Bryant. He had off-the-field issues and he had to come back and show the guys that he’s a good man and he can play ball and that on the field is where he is supposed to be. I want to kind of go in that direction – be quiet, do what I’m supposed to do, stay out of trouble come in and work hard and try to be on the 53-man roster.”
Aside from learning a new offensive playbook, Campbell is focusing on staying away from the temptations that have denied him his NFL dreams.
“This is my last chance,” Campbell said. “You’re going to get tempted all the time, it just depends on how you overcome the temptation. I’ve gotten into church more and I just pray to God every day that I’m able to overcome each temptation. Everybody gets tempted, but I’m keeping my family close to me, which I haven’t always done in the past because I’m always gone and I’m away from them. As long as they are close to me and helping me out I think I’ll be okay.”
With only Bryant and Michael Clayton assured of roster spots in 2009, the depth chart is wide open for at least three more receivers and Campbell likes his chances because he knows if he doesn't make the Buccaneers, he may not get another chance in the NFL.