Every summer leading up to training camp Buffalobills.com asks 25 of the most pressing questions facing the team as they make their final preparations for the upcoming regular season. This year we want your opinion on what the most likely answers to these questions will be. After reading each daily installment as the Bills get set for Year 1 under head coach Doug Marrone, go to the Bills daily fan poll leading up to report day at training camp and vote. You could be eligible to win tickets to night practice. Here is the latest daily installment as we closely examine some of the answers the Buffalo Bills have to come up with between July 28th and the Sept. 8th home opener.
It's often said by NFL coaches that there is a sizable leap in performance seen by players between their first and second seasons. After a year of NFL seasoning, a player blessed with more talent than most usually becomes an impact player after understanding and experiencing the demands of an NFL season as a rookie.
That was the expectation for Marcell Dareus heading into his sophomore campaign in 2012. Coming off a promising rookie season in 2011, the former top three draft pick was seen as a potential Pro Bowl type talent. What was not expected was a tragedy, which unfolded just a week into the NFL season that made football much harder for Dareus to put at the top of the priority list.
Dareus' youngest brother, Simeon Gilmore, was gunned down in a triple homicide in his native Alabama over what Dareus' said was an argument over $40. Gilmore was just 19 years old.
Though Dareus never missed a game after the untimely loss of his younger sibling, he admitted he was distracted. Not only did his thoughts often drift to his other siblings back in Alabama, but the killing of his brother had him "spooked" as he described it.
"It's really tough to come back and think about work when every time you turn around you lose someone that's close to you," said Dareus. "And you really don't have a mother or father to fall back on and talk to. It took a toll on me last year. I just had to be a man and finish the season hard and suck it all up."
Dareus rarely left his home for the first half of last football season. He feared something might happen to him. When one realizes how the loss of his brother affected Dareus, it's easy to see why the talented defensive lineman rarely showed up on the stat sheet through the team's first eight games.
It wasn't until Week 10 at New England that Dareus resolved to leave his own mortality up to God, and just live his life, and more importantly for the Bills, play his game.
He posted five tackles, a half sack and a pair of batted passes in a heartbreaking 37-31 loss to the Patriots after promising his teammates there would be no more distractions.
"Things just started turning around for me. It took me a lot to come out of my slump for the things that happened to my family," said Dareus. "I think the Patriots game was my coming out game and I kind of started picking it up from there, picking up the pieces and it started to come together for me."
Over the final half of what quickly became a lost season for the Bills, Dareus posted 23 of his 39 tackles for the season, more than half of his 5.5 sacks and all but one of his six batted passes.
His second-half effort led to a season that mirrored his rookie campaign. Instead of becoming a difference maker, Dareus looked to still be learning on the job.
At just 23-years old, Dareus still has all the talent that made him one of the top three picks in the draft. The question is can he bounce back from the lost season of 2012 and have a breakout season in 2013?
"I think for him it's consistency," said Kyle Williams in reflecting on Dareus' 2012 campaign. "Just being more consistent in his play and I think that can be said for everybody. There were times when we played well individually or as a team and there were times when there were letdowns. Hopefully for him he can play at a very high level and hopefully stay there."
Dareus holds a lot of respect for both Kyle and Mario Williams. Their encouraging words and work ethic hopefully help in getting Dareus back on track to becoming a perennial Pro Bowl player.
"Just feeding off of those two guys alone is inspiring," said Dareus. "Kyle is veteran technician, Mario is a hand technician. The things you get from these guys just make you so much better. Being patient off the ball, learning where to go, watching the formations, it just helps a lot more."
The new defensive system being installed demands versatility and Dareus has the skill set to offer that. Though he lined up mostly inside in the spring practices, Dareus has the ability to play nose, defensive tackle and even end in a 3-4 front.
Fully aware that Mike Pettine's system will be attacking and aggressive, Dareus is committed to coming into training camp fit and trim to maximize his ability to penetrate and get up the field.
"I want to be lighter this year because I want to be able to fly around the field and run to the ball and be an every down player," he said. "I want to be able to play every down."
Being on the field all the time is the only way Dareus is going to boost his production from last season, but he's got stiff competition battling for reps. Kyle Williams and Mario Williams are locks for the defensive line and both figure to be every down players. In a three-man front that leaves just one spot and Alex Carrington got the lion's share of the work in the spring in those looks.
In a four-man front Dareus got more time on the field, but he was fighting first-year player Jay Ross for snaps at times as the two rotated in and out on occasion.
It's clear that Dareus is not going to be handed anything by the new defensive staff based on his pedigree. He'll have to earn it just like everyone else.
As long as Dareus makes a full commitment it's hard to envision a scenario where he's not only starting, but excelling in his third NFL season.
"Whatever it takes for me to help this team get over the hump that's what I'm going to do," said Dareus. "That's what they drafted me for."