TAMPA — Defensive end Tim Crowder says he feels like the old man in the Bucs locker room.
Though Crowder is only 24 and just three years removed from his days at the University of Texas, his interests and lifestyle make it appear like he was born in the wrong decade. Crowder would rather listen to Marvin Gaye, Al Green and the Dramatics than Lil Wayne. The Tyler, Texas, native doesn't know how to use an iPod, iPhone or Blackberry.
And Crowder's frugal ways, from cutting his own hair to driving a 2003 Honda Malibu (an upgrade over his college car, a 1979 Cadillac DeVille), have earned him another label.
"Some people call me downright cheap," Crowder said, laughing. "I just like to save my money. You never know when hard times come. It's just how I am. It's how I was raised."
For Crowder, tough times came Sept. 5, when he was released by the Broncos, who drafted him in the second round in 2007 but converted him to outside linebacker in their 3-4 scheme. The Bucs signed Crowder nine days later and have been impressed with his improvement and work ethic.
It paid off Sunday, when Crowder, who backs up Stylez White at right end, had one of the best games of his career, 11/2 sacks and a fumble recovery against the Falcons.
Defensive line coach Todd Wash said the 6-foot-4, 275-pounder is more comfortable and can play faster in the Tampa 2 scheme, and they're going to give him a serious look in the last five games, pointing out second-round picks of his ability typically don't fall into your lap.
"He has the ability within our package to go inside and pass rush. He can pass rush outside, and he's big and strong enough to play the left end spot in regular down and distance," Wash said. "He has so many different roles for us. I think he's going to be a solid player here in the future."
Wash said what Crowder put on film in Denver is not what he's seeing now. Crowder played 13 games his rookie season in a reserve role, picking up four sacks. He played in just six games last season.
"It seemed like in Denver, he got himself in position to make plays but really never made plays," Wash said. "That was the knock on him. Where now, we see him there, and he makes a lot of plays. And he makes plays, really, that he's not supposed to make because of his effort."
Crowder said it was just a matter of getting an opportunity. He was a bit frustrated in Denver, and the business side of the NFL — "If the guy makes more money, he's going to play." — got into his head. Crowder learned from it, saying he doesn't worry any longer about what he can't control.
"When (Denver) released me, I said, 'I hope it's going to be the best thing that ever happened to me in my life,' " he said. "Just getting a fresh chance to start over, clear my mind and come to a place where they want you and you have a chance to play."
Crowder realizes how fortunate he is to make a living playing football, having watched his father lay asphalt for years in the Texas heat. And in college, he made sure to give back to the community, visiting patients at the Austin Children's Hospital and serving as a mentor at middle and elementary schools.
In 2003, Crowder met a special Tyler first-grader, Isaih Moa, who changed his perspective on life. Moa, diagnosed with cancer in 2004, died two years later, and "from that moment on, I didn't take anything for granted."
Crowder, who majored in health promotion and fitness, hopes to open a fitness center for obese children, having seen so much of it while growing up.
"He's mature as a 50-year-old man," said Bucs defensive tackle Roy Miller, Crowder's teammate at Texas. "He's always carried himself differently; always a different person."
And this season, a different player.
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com