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Crowell's play nets millions

Angelo Crowell's new-found wealth is the result of making the most of his time on the field this season. It's also an indication the third-year linebacker has a future with the Buffalo Bills.

The team showed enough faith in Crowell to sign him to a three-year extension Wednesday, believed to be worth $6.5 million. Being an instant millionaire might be a little hard for Crowell to believe.

"It's like I'm a rookie all over again," he said Thursday.

Not quite, because this is the same guy who played in six games as a rookie and was deactivated for the others, the same player who led the team in special teams tackles a year later. The same player who was inactive for the season opener against Houston.

"It shows a lot about the organization and what they think of me as a player," Crowell said. "I can bring a lot to the game. It's just a matter of playing with confidence. I feel I can do it all, now I just have to improve."

Crowell knew how to play the supporting role after backing up Takeo Spikes last year. What the Bills didn't know was how Crowell would respond when he was pushed into the spotlight at weak side linebacker.

He made them believers, ranking fourth on the team in tackles with 119 heading into the regular-season finale Sunday against the New York Jets. In addition to playing his natural position of weak side linebacker, Crowell at times has played in the middle.

Spikes was the pulse of the defense before suffering a season-ending Achilles tendon injury, and while Crowell isn't in the class of the Pro Bowl linebacker, the Bills have been able to utilize the 6-foot-1, 235-pound Crowell well in blitz packages and coverage. His 10 passes defended are second on the team to cornerback Nate Clements.

With more playing time, Crowell's confidence soared.

"I learned that I can play," said Crowell, who has three sacks and a team-best six tackles for losses. "I really can play with the big boys. I knew that I could play but until it was proven by going out there to make plays, there (is) some type of doubt in the back of your head."

The breakthrough game came against Kansas City. Crowell finished with 16 tackles and added a sack and interception while leading a Bills defense that held running back Larry Johnson to 32 yards on 11 carries in the second half of a 14-3 victory.

"It was after the bye week, eight games left," Crowell said. "It was the second half of the season, I had to settle in. I really knew I could play."

But there aren't any guarantees for playing time in the future. Presumably, Crowell will again back up Spikes next season even though Spikes is attempting to return from a devastating injury that could keep him out for most of training camp. Crowell is an insurance policy and is fine with the role.

"Whatever they ask me to do, I'm going to do," he said. "I feel like I've played solid in some games and I feel like I could have played better in some games. It's been a learning experience and every time I've gone out there, I've learned something new."

e-mail: rmckissic@buffnews.com

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