With his first NFL season coming to an end, Buffalo Bills defensive lineman
Even after a three-day break, the rookie first-round pick acknowledged his body was still aching Wednesday, when the Bills (6-9) returned to practice to prepare to close their season at New England on Sunday.
``Phew, everything. It's not just injuries, but everything,'' Dareus said. ``It hurts to get out of bed. It hurts.''
That shouldn't come as a surprise for a player who's spent the last half of the season shouldering much of the load on a young and patchwork defense that's lost four regulars to injuries.
Sore as he might feel, and an injury to his left hand hurts the most, Dareus' confidence in himself and his team has not been bruised even as Buffalo will miss the playoffs for a 12th straight season.
``Well, you know, Rome wasn't built in a day, and nothing's going to just change overnight,'' said Dareus, selected with No. 3 pick out of Alabama. ``We've got our rookies playing. We're contributing to the team. And we're going to do more next year, and we're going to try to turn this team around slowly but surely.''
As for assessing his performance, Dareus said: ``I've done everything in my power to do the best I could.''
His best hasn't been good enough to turn around a defense that's still in the transitional stages of switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4 scheme. And the injuries were beyond his control.
That doesn't mean Dareus hasn't made a significant impact during a season in which he established himself as a bona fide starter and provided the defensive front an anchor around which it can build.
``That's been one of the impressive things is the progress he's made each week,'' coach Chan Gailey said. ``A lot of people think he's arrived, but he hasn't yet. ... He's still learning. I think he has a chance to be even more dominant as time goes on.''
Much as he did at Alabama, Dareus has been a dual threat in both pressuring the quarterback and stopping the run this season.
He leads the team with 5 1/2 sacks, the most by a Bills rookie since Aaron Schobel had 6 1/2 in 2001.
Buffalo has been far better against the run this season. After allowing 200 yards rushing eight times last season, the defense has held opponents to under 140 yards nine times this season.
On the downside, the Bills rank 24th in the NFL in yards allowed; are giving up an average of 25.6 points a game; and got off to a dreadful start in which they allowed 400 or more yards in six of their first seven games.
``We're not where we want to be statistically,'' coordinator George Edwards said. ``But I'll tell you we have a lot of young guys who have gotten some good valuable experience.''
Dareus leads the way, which is impressive for a rookie who lost out on key developmental time after having his spring minicamps and conditioning sessions wiped out by the NFL lockout.
Dareus said the time he lost has hurt him, particularly when it came to conditioning. He's found his stamina lacking late in games, which is something he intends to work on this offseason.
What should help, too, is the return of
Without Williams, Dareus has found himself the target of being double-teamed.
Dareus looks up to Williams, that he's even helped fill a leadership role by following a motto of: ``What would Kyle do?''
That's what inspired Dareus to deliver an impassioned speech before a game against the New York Jets last month. Though the Bills lost 28-24, it marked one of the defense's better performances during what became a seven-game skid.
``I mostly lead with action, but it just felt like at the time I needed to say something,'' Dareus said.
The speech was not lost on his teammates.
``He wants that role,'' veteran linebacker