When the Buffalo Bills selected Alabama defensive lineman Marcell Dareus with the third overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, much was expected. And by the end of his rookie campaign, it's safe to say that even more was delivered. Dareus stood out from the start, but he really caught fire in the second half of the Bills' 2011 campaign, amassing 4.5 of his 5.5 sacks and six of his eight stuffs from the seventh game on. As he did in college, Dareus proved to be supremely versatile, playing all over the line in Buffalo's varied fronts.
We caught up with him on Radio Row during Super Bowl week, and we thought it would be a good time to double back and get his thoughts on a few more issues. In Part 1 of this two-part interview (the conclusion will run on Saturday), Marcell discusses life on and off the field in the NFL, and what it means to be a leader among veterans.
Marcell also wanted to talk about his relationship with New Era, (watch a behind-the-scenes video here), especially their new line of draft caps that every player selected this year will be wearing when walking up to get a handshake from Roger Goodell in late April. You can go to the New Era Caps Facebook page and hit "Like" for more information.
Shutdown Corner: How did the relationship with New Era start?
Marcell Dareus: It came about right when I got drafted. The first thing you do when you get drafted by your team is to put on the hat, because that's the first thing you get. Being drafted by the Buffalo Bills, it was crazy, but that's when it feels official -- when you get it [the cap]. It was a special draft hat last year, and it kind of [personifies] that you've reached that goal in your life that a lot of people don't reach. New Era, they've taken over the NFL [brand], and they have the best of the best.
SC: Your Alabama tape was pretty ridiculous, and everyone saw you going very high in the draft, but did you expect to be taken as high as you were?
MD: Yes. When I was going through the process, just listening to the media and to NFL insiders, you get a pretty good sense of where you're going to get slotted. Just the way I play and the way Coach [Nick] Saban coaches, I was pretty sure that I was going pretty high. There wasn't a doubt in my mind.
SC: What did you know about Buffalo before you went there?
MD: I knew that Bruce Smith was a defensive lineman. Just the history of the Super Bowls -- I didn't know a lot, but I knew a little, and it just grew from there.
SC: It was an interesting season for you, because [defensive tackle] Kyle Williams lost time to injuries, and you were injured yourself, but you played through those and really became the main man on that defensive line. You came on as a player as the season progressed, but I wanted to talk about your role as a young leader -- there was the impassioned speech you gave to your teammates after a three-game losing streak. What was that all about?
MD: When Kyle Williams was hurt, we really needed that leadership. A vocal leader -- some people just lead by example, and that's fine, but it takes a certain type of person to stand up and not care what others think about him [if he does]. I just know what I learned from Coach Saban at Alabama - that a leader has to step up in times of trouble. You can't have everybody just running around -- you've got to have some kind of leadership, and somebody has to lead some kind of way. So, I didn't see anything at that point, and something just told me to take over and say something to the guys.
SC: What did you say to your teammates?
MD: I just said to the guys, 'If you don't want to be out here, I don't need you around me. I'm here to win, and that's the only thing I'm here for. There are guys all over the country [playing football], and we're supposed to be the best of the best, and we have to rise to the occasion." That was most of what I said.
SC: Did you sense a different vibe with the team after that happened?
MD: I mean, I'm not saying I'm a leader like Kyle Williams, but I do the best I can. And you do see them respond -- you see them play a little harder. We kept up the fight; it wasn't like we gave up in games or anything like that.
SC: You played pretty well in the NFL from the start, but clearly, your breakout game was against the Washington Redskins in the seventh game of the season, when you blew up for 2.5 sacks at nose tackle. Was there something about their front, or your defense, that allowed you to just go off that day?
MD: I was talking with Kyle, and he has a lot of inside stuff that will help you out. I believe in our veterans, and I listen to them. He told me a couple things, and that was probably my best week of watching film -- we evaluated their o-linemen perfectly -- and I went out there and just had fun.
SC: Something you said when I interviewed you during Super Bowl week that I found interesting -- and you didn't say it in an inflammatory way -- you mentioned that if Nick Saban ever wanted to coach in the NFL again, he'd have to learn to lighten up a bit, because everyone's a grown man in the NFL. Could you elaborate on that a bit? Is the interaction between pro and college coaches and their players that different?
MD: Oh, of course. That's something I picked up on immediately. Playing for Coach Saban and playing for an NFL team -- it's a lot looser [in the NFL], because you are a grown man. They have "grown man" responsibilities. [In college], everybody's not running around with wives and families and family homes. In college, you have somebody who's detailing your whole life. You've got to be at meetings, and you've got to be at workouts -- everything is just so anal, to the point where your life is run by somebody else. You really have to handle your own business in the league. They're not going to be on you as hard, but you have to handle yourself. In college, they kind of help you out a lot.