For Angelo Crowell the 2006 season ended much too soon. In the midst of really taking off in a defensive system that appears tailor-made for his abilities, the Bills linebacker suffered a fracture in his lower leg against San Diego. He would miss the final four games of the season as the Bills placed him on injured reserve.
But as he left One Bills Drive following the season finale, Crowell was walking out of the Bills practice facility with no noticeable limp or hindrance from the injury he suffered two months ago.
"I'm healthy, they just passed me," Crowell told buffalobills.com moments after meeting with team physicians for his end of season physical. "They said if there was a game this weekend that I could've played depending on my comfort level."
Crowell said Buffalo's medical staff declared the injury "90 to 95 percent healed."
"They said I could do anything as long as there is no discomfort," Crowell said. "So I can start my cardio. It's nice to be pain free."
Tied for third on the team in tackles despite missing the last four games Buffalo's coaching staff knows the talent they have in Crowell.
"He's really did a great job and he was really showing up on game day before the injury," said head coach Dick Jauron. "Everybody noticed his hitting. That was a big plus for this defense. Getting injured was tough for him and tough for us. He was playing well and getting more and more comfortable in the scheme."
Crowell is excited to be entering the offseason healthy.
"It's great," he said. "Now I can at least do my rehab."
The fourth-year pro plans to stay in shape on his own for most of the offseason and be back up to Buffalo in mid-March for the offseason conditioning program report date. Of course Buffalo's defense could look a lot different at that point in time, with three defensive starters set to become free agents.
"With London Fletcher definitely being up, Nate (Clements) and Chris (Kelsay), those are a lot of big ballers," Crowell said. "They were all pretty good for our defense this year so hopefully we can get those guys back so we can continue to get better. It's nice to play with the same guys year after year, but the nature of this business doesn't always allow for that. So if those guys are not here hopefully they can bring in some people that can play to the level that they did."
If Fletcher does not return there's a good possibility his replacement will be Crowell. Crowell has been Fletcher's backup at middle linebacker the past two seasons. With the emergence of rookie Keith Ellison on the weak side this season, moving Crowell to the middle could be an option that the Bills consider should they be unable to re-sign Fletcher.
"I've played the 'mike' (middle linebacker) before so if that's what they call on me to do then that's what I'm going to do," said Crowell. "I'm a team guy. I just want to be on the field. I know if I'm on the field I can make the plays. I can adjust to the mental side of the game to play any position. The way I see it I just want to be on the field. I don't care where it's at as long as I'm on the field first, second or third down."
With 2007 set to be his fifth season in the league Crowell is quickly becoming one of the veteran players on the defensive side of the ball. That's why he enters this offseason with a focus on his intangibles as much as his physical play.
"It's time now for me to become a leader on this defense and begin to help the younger guys and have guys look to me for leadership," said Crowell. "I think that's the next step that has to be taken in my game. I've been tutored by some pretty good players in Fletcher and Spikes and I think it's time for me to break away and become a leader like those guys were. When I get back we'll pretty much see the changes of who is going to be back with us and who will not, and I'll approach it from that angle. The opportunity has been given to me and I'm going into this offseason with that on my mind."