When Aaron Maybin was selected with the 11th overall pick by the Buffalo Bills in the 2009 NFL Draft, many were salivating at his potential as a dynamic pass rusher. After all, the 6'4", 250-pounder out of Penn State recorded 12 sacks as a sophomore for legendary head coach Joe Paterno, and registered an impressive 20 tackles for loss from the left defensive end position.
Maybin did not appear at training camp on day one last year, or day two, or day three. Due to contract negotiations with the club, he missed almost all of the summer practice slate, and was forced to play catch up from the beginning of his rookie campaign. Being in on time this year for his first NFL training camp, Maybin said, was a great feeling.
"Last year, because of the contract situation, I wasn't able to be here until we broke camp," he said. "So having the opportunity to be here from day one, and put all the work in with the rest of my teammates is definitely good."
In his second professional season, Maybin will be playing under a new head coach in Chan Gailey, and from a new system in the 3-4 defense. With much of the uncertainty that accompanies being a training camp rookie, Maybin was confident in the progression that he and his teammates made during the offseason to prepare for the opening days of camp at St. John Fisher.
"Throughout our offseason program, we basically implemented our defense. So now, we've had the opportunity to go through it one time, and now we're kind of revisiting everything," he said. "Being that it is the second time we are going through it, it's a good chance for everybody to get a grasp of the system. Ultimately, it comes down to reps, the more reps you get, the better you feel, and the more the defense jells together."
Leaving the familiarity of the 4-3 setup from last season, along with the necessary time spent studying the new defensive game plan, Maybin said that learning his new assignment as an edge-rushing linebacker came along pretty quickly.
"Obviously, there are always things to improve on, and there are always things everyday that I try to go out and get better at," Maybin said. "I think that as a whole, as a team, we are progressing well, and individually I have been able to progress a lot faster being out here and able to work with the coaches and the team."
Maybin appeared in all 16 regular season games last year, though he did not record a start, and finished with 18 tackles. Learning a new position after spending an entire rookie season elsewhere requires not only a change in technique, but a change in pre-snap reads and other mental recognition facets of the game, which Maybin said he paid a lot of attention to during team preparation at OTAs.
"Being in a position, as a linebacker, guys expect you to know what you're doing," Maybin said. "You have to be able to see certain things, certain calls. That has been the biggest part of my game right now, just making sure everybody on the field knows that they can rely on me to be able to make the big plays when the opportunities come."
With the future of Aaron Schobel in limbo the past few months, the Bills coaching staff will be expecting others to fill the role of consistent pass rushing specialist to disrupt the opponent's aerial attack. A natural fit for the role would be Maybin, given the success he had at getting to the quarterback in college. Although Schobel would be a key player to lose on the defensive side of the football, Maybin said that with or without Schobel, the team will need to have a pass rush, and must plan accordingly.
"We would love to have (Schobel), I would love to have him around for another year, but we've got to prepare as if we have the team that we are going to have going into the season right now," Maybin said. "We will see how that (situation) plays itself out."
As analysts and fans alike predict the success the Bills will achieve this season, a lot is riding on the transition to the 3-4 defense. While it is a departure from the Tampa 2 defense of the past, Maybin said the responsibilities on the field are marginally different, and everyone will still need to put in the maximum effort to make the new system work.
"At the end of the day, (we) players have to go out and make plays to win football games. There are certain things that, schematically, we are able to do that help us with this defense," he said. "But I think the biggest piece of the puzzle is how hard guys are working out here, how hard they are working in the film rooms and in the study rooms to make sure that we have a good grasp of this defense. At the end of the day, it's all about winning."