To say that Marcell Dareus has under-performed for the Buffalo Bills over the last two years would be an understatement.
After making two consecutive Pro Bowls in 2013 and 2014, adding a first-team All Pro nod to that 2014 season, Dareus struggled mightily in 2015 and 2016. The scheme former Bills head coach Rex Ryan employs calls for a 3-4 nose tackle to eat blocks, and eating blocks is not what makes the 6’3”, 331-pound Dareus so special. Attacking gaps and disrupting plays in the backfield with his uncanny combination of burst and strength is what Dareus does best.
Many have surmised that a return to a 4-3, one-gap approach similar to what the team ran in 2014 under former defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is exactly what the team needs to return to its sound defensive ways. Someone like Dareus, who was asked to drop into coverage at times and also to play in a two-gap setting, should probably welcome the change in scheme and in leadership.
In an interview with Vic Carucci of The Buffalo News, Dareus spoke about the new Bills coaching staff, specifically head coach Sean McDermott and defensive line coach Mike Waufle. Dareus noted that it’s been “challenging” playing for Waufle in the early going. Waufle, an ex-Marine, is known as a no-nonsense guy, and he showcased that personality last year on HBO’s Hard Knocks as a coach for the Los Angeles Rams.
Dareus said that Waufle’s intensity is something that the team needs. “Dealing with an ex-Marine, he don’t play no games, he ain't cutting no corners with us. But it’s well-deserved; we need it. We're trying to be the best we can possibly be and he’s a hell of a coach and we're excited to have him."
While Carucci suggests that someone of Dareus’s questionable character fits more with the “anything goes” atmosphere of a Ryan team than the “high character, high accountability” mantra preached thus far by McDermott, the fact remains that Marcell Dareus is one fantastic football player. When he’s healthy and allowed to do what he does best, he is a force that offensive coordinators have to scheme around at all times.
Dareus was at the team’s voluntary OTAs this past week. Dareus welcomes Waufle’s detail-oriented approach. When asked if a return to a one-gap, 4-3 scheme would lead to a return to his All Pro form, Dareus ignored the bait to make a self-aggrandizing prediction. He said, “Realistically, I really can’t say until we get to camp and get some pads on. Right now, we're just going over a real basic, vanilla form of our playbook so we can get communication down. I’m just really excited for camp so we can really see what we’ve got going on.”
This sounds less like a player who’s been arrested multiple times, who’s been suspended by the league multiple times, and who’s maturity (or lack thereof) has been his greatest obstacle throughout his NFL career, and more like a player who is ready to move forward.
A player like Dareus should flourish in a system that, to quote the player himself, has coaches who “are really on us and they're paying a lot of attention to a lot of small details, making sure we're doing the right things.” This attention to detail should only help refocus a group that at times looked entirely lost over the last two seasons.
The first step towards showing buy-in to a system or a regime is showing up. Dareus took that first step last week. If McDermott and his staff can provide a situation where Dareus can harness the physical gifts within his massive frame, a return to form can be expected not only for Dareus, but for the entire defense, as well.