John McCargo has heard all the labels. Disappointment, injury prone, bust. Those are the terms typically attached to a former first-round pick when he hasn't provided consistent production or earned a starting role after three years in the league. McCargo however, has washed his first three years in the league away and has rededicated himself to the game in the hopes of being the player he and everyone else in the Bills organization believed he could become.
"I want it to be a fresh start, so that's why I'm trying to become a different person," McCargo told Buffalobills.com. "I'm trying not to have that label, whatever that label was. I'm trying to not have it anymore because it never was the player I was. But when you get a label attached to you, it's kind of hard to shake. So I'm just trying to do whatever I can and shake it. Whatever label has been put on me, just become someone else."
So far so good.
McCargo has had near perfect attendance this offseason at One Bills Drive. In fact he's been at the team's training facility since late January as he began rehabilitation coming off of back surgery in December. McCargo had a ruptured disc in his back that required surgery. Playing in pain was something the defensive tackle had to endure for a good portion of last season before his back problem worsened to the point where surgery became necessary.
It limited his effectiveness in practice and his fitness level wasn't what he wanted it to be. As a result he found himself on the inactive list for four games before going on injured reserve for the last five weeks of the season.
Unfortunately for McCargo it wasn't the first time. McCargo suffered a broken foot his rookie season, which landed him on injured reserve and required two surgeries. Those injuries have compromised the early part of his career, but the defensive tackle is out to change that.
"I'm just trying to stay healthy because that's seemed to be the problem," said McCargo. "Injuries, injuries, injuries. I've lost about 10 to 15 pounds and I'm just trying to come in lighter because ever since I've been in the league I've been heavier than I was in college. I feel better at around 300 or 305. I'm trying to stay around there so I can run more. That's the kind of defense that we're in where they want the defensive line to pursue and hustle up and down the field and I think the lighter I am the better I am at doing that."
McCargo is currently tipping the scales at 302 and he noticed a difference in OTA practices this week where he's been running with the second team defense.
"I definitely feel good on the field," he said. "When you run and it takes you less time to recover you feel better, your movements are better. I feel a lot better."
And McCargo isn't the only one that has noticed.
"He looks as quick or maybe quicker than I've seen him look," said head coach Dick Jauron. "He's had his best offseason with us, both in the weight room in terms of conditioning and then his health. He feels good. He doesn't have any aches right now. Now obviously during the season everybody has aches, but he doesn't have that constant aching that he's had. It frees him up and he's taken advantage of it. Now he just has to keep doing it."
Perseverance was another part of being a pro that some wondered if McCargo had within him his first few seasons in the NFL. It's likely part of the reason why he was deemed expendable last year when he was part of the nullified trade to Indianapolis. But McCargo is putting it all behind him. He doesn't see it helping him in trying to accomplish his goals for this season.
"There were some wacky circumstances (last year), but I didn't try to ask too many questions about what happened in the past," he said. "I'm not worried about that anymore. I'm only asking about what I can do to get better in the future. It's really out of my mind right now. It's just about today and trying to get better for tomorrow."
Helping McCargo do that is Buffalo's new defensive line coach Bob Sanders, and the defensive tackle appears to have taken to Sanders' approach.
"I definitely like coach Sanders," McCargo said. "He's more of a teacher and has taught us some new techniques with hand work and he has some new skills that he coached in Green Bay that I think will definitely help me out and all of us out. He wants us to do well and we appreciate that and we just try to work hard for him. I like the way he teaches and I think it will benefit us."
What ultimately motivates McCargo however, are his own expectations and knowing to this point in his career he hasn't met them.
"I'm not happy with the way I've performed the last two or three years," he said. "I'm not happy with anything that I've done. Whatever I need to do whether its weight, working out more, I'm just doing whatever I can. My number one goal is to be productive this year."