May 12 is a day that new Buccaneers linebacker Angelo Crowell has circled on his calendar. That will be the day he is able to finally return to playing football in a full-time capacity since undergoing season-ending knee surgery three days before the start of last season.

“OTAs on May 12, baby – I’ll be rolling. That’s the goal right there – May 12,” Crowell said. “I’m getting back into football shape right now. I’m about 30 days or so away, so I’m itching.”

Crowell’s knee had the symptoms of runner’s knee and been inflamed and swollen during training camp. The former third-round pick of the Buffalo Bills, who signed with Tampa Bay last month, remains optimistic that the surgery will allow him to resume his career and his level play will return to normal.

“It’s a little bit frustrating sitting out, do you know what I mean? I’ve never been one to sit out,” Crowell said. “I can’t wait to get back out there. I’ve got a lot of doubters that think I can’t come back and become the player I was. To come back and be the player I was would be a disappointment to me. I’ve got to be better than that, do you know what I’m saying? So I’m anxious to get out on the field and just show what I can do. I’ll let my play speak for itself.”

When healthy, Crowell is a force against the run and the pass. He has amassed 346 career tackles, according to NFL.com, seven sacks, five interceptions, forced three fumbles and notched one safety. In 2005, his first year as a starter, Crowell had 120 tackles (80 solo), three sacks, two picks and a forced fumble. His numbers dipped in 2006 when he was limited to just 12 games due to an injury, but he still finished with 84 stops, two sacks, two interceptions and one forced fumble.

Crowell was on the verge of stardom after a 2007 campaign in which he established a career-high 126 tackles (86 solo), two sacks, one pick and one forced fumble before unexpectedly missing the 2008 season with a troublesome knee. The Bucs have inked Crowell to a one-year “prove it deal” worth a reported $3 million to make sure that his knee is sound before investing in him for the long term.

“I put up good numbers – not to be bragging or anything, but it is what it is,” Crowell said. “I’m just pushing. The hardest thing for me right now is just the patience. I’ve been out of football for six months now and I’m starting to get back into football movements, so that kind of takes the itch away. I’m anxious.”

Part of the reason why Crowell is so anxious to get on the field is due to the opportunity that is presenting itself. When the Bucs released Cato June in late February it created a vacant starting spot at the strongside linebacker position. Quincy Black, Tampa Bay’s former third-round pick in 2007, has been generating a lot of buzz this offseason and is the current favorite to land the starting role over fellow linebackers Adam Hayward and Jamall Johnson. But on May 12, the race is expected to be blown wide open when Crowell, the younger brother of former Detroit wide receiver Germane Crowell, will officially join the competition.

“I’m happy to be a Buc. I feel like I’ll do well in this system,” Crowell said when discussing his free agency courtship by Tampa Bay. “The facilities. That was the first thing. I said, ‘Man, this is not Buffalo!’ The weather was nice. My wife is from Tallahassee, so she is closer to her family. And then the coaching staff, man – Jim Bates and Joe Barry – I like the scheme they were running.”

Angelo also said the enthusiasm from new head Raheem Morris was what ultimately sold him on becoming a Buccaneer where he is hoping to use his combination of speed and his 6-foot-1, 246-pound frame to help Tampa Bay’s defense return to dominance. The Bucs defense has traditionally thrived with undersized linebackers, but Crowell’s size is only matched by Black’s chiseled physique at the linebacker position.

“It’s a nice combination I’ve developed over the years,” Crowell said when discussing his size and speed. “When I first came into the league I wasn’t this big. I was in the 220s. I have put on more weight without losing my explosive speed. The one thing I was taught from high school on was that speed kills. God has just blessed me to be able to gain weight and muscle without losing my speed.”

Team doctors tell Crowell that he’ll be able to show off that speed in about four more weeks when the OTAs begin, and the newest Buccaneer can’t wait to do some on-field bonding with his new teammates.

“It’s a different dynamic being a new guy because you create a lot of bonds with your teammates being on the field,” Crowell said. “You get along off the field, but when you’re on the field and you’re grinding together, that’s where the closeness and relationships (come from).”

Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: sr@pewterreport.com
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