After recording two sacks and a forced fumble against Carolina, defensive end Tim Crowder isn't worried about making the Bucs' starting lineup. He just wants to make plays and have an impact on every game.
Despite recording 47 tackles, 3.5 sacks, two passes defenses, a tackle for loss and a fumble recovery in spot duty as a reserve defensive end in 2009, Tim Crowder was passed over for the starting left end job that was vacated by the departure of Jimmy Wilkerson in free agency. Instead of Crowder, a fourth-year veteran who entered the year with 7.5 career sacks, the Bucs anointed Kyle Moore, who has yet to record a sack in his NFL career, as the starter largely due to his fourth-round draft status.
That could change if Crowder, 25, keeps playing as well as he played in Carolina in Tampa Bay’s 20-7 win over the Panthers. The 6-foot-4, 260-pounder recorded three tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble, a tackle for loss and a special teams tackle on Sunday, drawing the praise of head coach and defensive coordinator Raheem Morris.
“Tim played well,” Morris said. “He got a sack up there last year and I teased him about it because he didn’t get blocked on that one, but I didn’t tease him and mess with him too much yesterday because he rushed the passer real well. He could have had three. I think Stylez [G. White] stole one from him. He had two sacks and he made special teams tackles. He had a couple tackles for loss. He was a guy that was in coverage for us before. He’s done a bunch of things for us and he’s a special guy.”
One could make the argument that due to his experience and career sack production, Crowder should get more consideration to supplant Moore as a starter. Moore also recorded three tackles and recovered the fumble Crowder forced when he sacked quarterback Matt Moore in the third quarter. But the University of Texas product no long feels the importance of merely being designated as a starter.
“I felt like that’s one of things that hurt me early on in my career,” Crowder said. “I was worried too much about being a starter instead of just playing football and making an impact in the game. Being a starter, that will come in time. I really don’t think about it too much. I just want to make an impact in the game like I did on Sunday. I want the other tackle to look on our depth chart and say, ‘You know what? That No. 96, we have to worry about him.’
“After the first game against Cleveland, Joe Thomas, who is one of the best tackles in the game, came up to me and said, ‘Man, you’re a really good player.’ That means a lot. This guy has been to the Pro Bowl ever since he’s been in the league. Just to hear that makes me feel like I’m doing something right. That’s all that matters to me now. I really don’t even think about starting anymore. If I’m making an impact that, that makes me happy.”
If Crowder is happy that means a player like Carolina rookie right tackle Geoff Schwartz, who surrendered both sacks, is unhappy. Crowder’s sacks along with the one that White snared away from him at the last second in the third quarter all came on third down, which is the most important down for pass rushers.
“That’s huge,” Crowder said. “I call third down the ‘money down’ and the ‘big boy down.’ That’s when you become a man. If you want to be one of those respected players you have to get off the field on third down and make a big impact on third down. It’s the same as the two-minute drill. You have to make an impact. No matter how tired you, you have to dig deep inside your heart and find something where you go make a play.”
When asked if he would consider moving Crowder into the starting lineup on Monday, Morris shrugged off the notion, indicating that his value to the team is seeing a lot of snaps at multiple positions – not just at left defensive end.
“In that rotation he’s really that fifth starter because of how much he plays,” Morris said. “He spells Stylez. He spells Kyle Moore. He can play inside. He plays on special teams. He runs down on punt. You can’t have enough guys like that. He reminds me of Earnest Graham – only on defense.”
As thrilling as it was to record two sacks and force a fumble against the Panthers, Crowder also took a lot of pride and satisfaction for being on the field when Tampa Bay’s young defensive line had a great goal line stand in the fourth quarter, stopping running back Jonathan Stewart in the backfield on fourth-and-goal at the Tampa Bay 2-yard line.
“It was big,” Crowder said. “It was to the point where we didn’t want them to score. It’s just our mentality. We don’t want them in the end zone. No matter how many yards they get they’re not going to score. If our defense has that mentality it can do great things. You see the Steelers and the Ravens defenses. They don’t want to teams to score, even a field goal. If you have that mentality, it can take you a long way.”
Seeking young defensive ends to help fortify Tampa Bay's pass rush, Bucs general manager Mark Dominik claimed Crowder, a former second-round pick by Denver in 2007, off waivers last year. That's just one of several shrewd moves by the young G.M. that has position the team for success in 2010.
Crowder’s big plays in Carolina are just some of the many reasons why the 2-0 Buccaneers are one of the NFL’s surprise teams early this season. Although he doesn’t get to run out of the tunnel when the starters are introduced, Crowder doesn’t mind being Morris’ fifth starter along the defensive line as long as he gets a chance to make big plays to help the team win like he did on Sunday.
“The main thing I think about – whether I am a starter or not – is just making an impact in the game no matter how many plays I get,” Crowder said. “That’s what I try to do. I hope the other team has to worry about number 96 during the week. That’s my goal each week.”
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