CB Brian Kelly (25) is in his first season as a Lion after spending 10 years in Tampa
When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Detroit Lions square off at Ford Field on Sunday, it will be an unusual but strangely familiar experience for Lions cornerback Brian Kelly.
Kelly joined the Lions this offseason as an undrafted free agent who had spent the first 10 years of his NFL career with the Buccaneers. As a veteran leader on the Detroit defense and one of a large handful of Lion starters with direct ties to the Bucs, Kelly will be trying to beat his former team by using some of the traits he picked up while in Tampa – namely an aggressive, confident attitude.
"The best thing we had going for us in Tampa is we had confidence in the system," Kelly said. "We knew the system worked because we had success with the system. If you don't have success with the system you're going to obviously, as a man, question things and question if this works and maybe try something different that might not be part of the system.
"The biggest thing is just going out there and getting some wins under your belt. Talking to guys in the past, I wasn't around in the orange-and-white days, but there are some similarities there too. There was a point there where it was like, 'Does this work?' Then all of a sudden, you get success and you crack the rock, as they say, and you start doing things well and winning tight games and winning fourth-quarter games and going out and playing great defense and shutting good offenses out. When that starts to happen, you start to get confidence in what it is you can do as a defense and as a team. That has to start happening for this franchise to turn around and be better."
Kelly made the move to Detroit this offseason in large part to due a sense of comfort with his surroundings. The move reunited him with Head Coach Rod Marinelli, Defensive Coordinator Joe Barry, Defensive Backs Coach Jimmy Lake, defensive tackle Chuck Darby, linebacker Ryan Nece, safeties Kalvin Pearson and Dwight Smith and defensive end Dewayne White, all of whom came out of the Bucs' system.
"The reason for me coming here was basically I had good familiarity with Rod and obviously with the defense and with Joe Barry," Kelly said. "You're going into your 11th year in football, you don't want to go and walk into something just totally foreign to you, learning a whole other language and terminology. So if I had the opportunity to be in something similar, I took that.
"The type of man that Rod is and the type of coach that he is, I'm happy to be here with him and be in this situation. As far as going back to Tampa, I think it was pretty obvious what direction they were going in and there's no hard feelings on my end. It's a business, and that's how the business goes. The time there was great. I had a good time there, but I also feel that it was time to move on."
Unfortunately for Kelly, success hasn't followed him north from Tampa. The winless Lions have struggled mightily in 2008, but the 11th-year veteran feels confident that things are looking up.
"It's actually getting better around here, to be honest with you," Kelly said. "As a defense, we're putting things better, we're playing better as a defense. We're not playing at any means the way we should be playing, but it's just a building process. Rod is building what he wants to build here for the Detroit Lions. He's taking a lot of what he did in Tampa and trying to implement a lot of that here in Detroit. It's just a process, and right now we're just going through that process."
As frustrating as it may be for a tenured vet like Kelly to go through a difficult rebuilding process, it has been some of his fellow former Bucs that have kept Kelly – and the rest of the Lions – on the right path.
"It's tough," Kelly said. "I couldn't tell you anything different. It has been tough, because we do want to win here and I've won in the past with similar systems. But I wouldn't want to go through any situation with anybody else but Rod Marinelli with a situation like this. He's so mentally strong. He comes in here and is constantly pushing guys. I don't know if you've seen some of his press conferences on TV, but he's staying the same. He's not changing. He's not fair-weather about anything. He's stubborn to a fault about what he wants to get done and he's not going to give in.
"As players, we can't do anything but respond and try to go out there and continue to get better. The situation has been rough, but the type of men that are here in Rod Marinelli, Joe Barry, those kind of guys that continue to push, they make it a lot easier to go through this."
Even though there will be a high level of familiarity when these two teams square off Sunday – and likely an inordinate amount of pregame greetings between old friends – Kelly is keeping his focus on the action on the field.
The fact that the Lions' next chance to pick up their first victory of the season comes against his former team isn't providing any sort of extra motivation for Kelly.
The Lions simply need a win, and will take it any way – and against any opponent – that they can get it.
"It would be nice [to beat the Bucs], but this is not that grudge-match type of thing," Kelly said. "We just need a win, just to get a win. If we're playing Army, we need to win a game. We are playing against Tampa and that's our opponent, the next guys up, and we do want to beat them, but we just need a win in the worst way and whenever it comes it'll be nice."