ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (Sept. 29, 2005) -- Angelo Crowell has lost the flashy earrings and now has his ball cap on straight.
The Buffalo Bills' third-year linebacker decided before the start of the season that if he was going to be a professional, he might as well start looking the part.
"Just taking things more serious, taking a different approach," Crowell said before a recent practice. "I was kind of transformed, so it's kind of cool."
How cool he'll react to being placed on the hot seat will be the question when Crowell makes his first career start in Buffalo's game against New Orleans at San Antonio.
The challenge for the Bills' 2003 third-round draft pick out of Virginia is replacing the defense's inspirational and physical leader, Takeo Spikes, who's out for the season after tearing his right Achilles' tendon in a loss to Atlanta.
"It's a hard pill to swallow, Spikes going down like that, man. It is mixed emotions," Crowell said. "Those shoes are big, but I'm going to go out there and play my game."
What type of game Crowell has is a bit of a mystery because it's been near impossible for Buffalo's backup linebackers to break into a starting lineup that for the last two-plus seasons has consisted of Spikes, London Fletcher and Jeff Posey.
Crowell is considered the best and most versatile of the three backups, having made a niche for himself as a hard-hitting special teams player.
"He's a good player that's really behind a great player," coach Mike Mularkey said.
Crowell was in on six tackles against Atlanta, taking over on the weak side after Spikes was hurt late in the second quarter. He also filled in at middle linebacker the week before, playing two-plus quarters in Buffalo's loss at Tampa Bay after Fletcher was forced out because of a strained hamstring.
Spikes was pleased with Crowell's performance after the Tampa Bay game, impressed with how the player calmly relayed plays in the defensive huddle and made the proper presnap adjustments.
"That was a big plus because a lot of guys couldn't do that looking at film," Spikes said last week. "I have a lot of confidence in him."
Crowell was a three-year starter at Virginia. He set the school's single-season record with 144 tackles as a junior in 2001, and then broke that mark with 155 the following year. His 10 career forced fumbles were one short of the school's record.
"He's ready," veteran safety Troy Vincent said. "Very explosive, great tackler, a downhill guy. I'm interested in seeing this guy not just now, but in the future if he continues to keep progressing."
Vincent was the one who advised Crowell to clean up his appearance during a dinner earlier this month. He's pleased with the player's transformation.
"He's starting to mature, taking ownership," Vincent said, noting Crowell is spending extra hours studying film. "Those are the steps you take to becoming a better football player."
Crowell has managed to stay patient, making the most out of his time on special teams. In 16 games last season, he was credited with 28 special teams tackles.
"I don't really see no challenge," Crowell said. "I've been preparing myself whether or not my number's called. And if I'm called, there it is, I'm ready to go."