Disciplined isn't among the first words used to describe Marcell Dareus.
Reckless, maybe. Unfocused, perhaps. Overpaid … underachiever … you get the picture.
Dareus' train wreck of a 2016 season left him at a crossroads in his NFL career.
He was at the bottom of a hill he had once stood atop after a strong 2014 season convinced the Buffalo Bills -- desperate to validate making the big defensive tackle from Alabama the third overall pick of the 2011 NFL Draft -- to shower him with a $100-million contract. He was just another name on a list of expensive mistakes cashing checks from Terry and Kim Pegula.
And during yet another offseason of change at One Bills Drive, Dareus became the symbol of all that was wrong that Sean McDermott and his button-down approach were brought in to try to make right.
High character. High accountability.
Those were the qualities that were now supposed to define the Bills' roster. Those were what McDermott's players were supposed to be all about.
Dareus? He was perfect for Rex Ryan's anything-goes environment, even if he wasn't necessarily an ideal fit for the convoluted 3-4 scheme that would sometimes ask a 6-foot-3, 331-pound lineman to drop into coverage.
After one season under Ryan, Dareus thought he had plenty of freedom to enjoy the excesses that came with his wealth to the fullest -- and the tremendous job security that comes with having a contract that would do massive damage to the Bills' salary cap if he were to be cut. So along came the four-game suspension for substance abuse that was supposed to have included his checking into a rehabilitation center. Dareus later revealed that that never happened (social-media photos from a night on the town shortly after the August announcement of the rehab plan made that pretty clear) and he instead sought help for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Then came the injuries that, combined with the suspension, limited him to eight games, with seven starts.
No, Dareus didn't meet the criteria of a McDermott player at all, not with the additional suspension for one game in 2015 and that drag-racing incident in Hamburg in his past. However, because of that contract, he wasn't going anywhere.
Now, we get to see just what sort clashing of personalities and ideas there will be between Dareus and the new regime.
Let's start with Mike Waufle, the Bills' defensive line coach. Waufle, who was a Marine, has no tolerance for players who aren't prepared to give their best effort at all times. Last summer's edition of the HBO series "Hard Knocks" put Waufle's uncompromising style on display when he was guiding the defensive line of the Los Angeles Rams.
On the field and in the meeting room, Waufle made it eminently clear that his guys either do things his way or deal with his wrath. If it meant getting physical, so be it. He wasn't afraid of any form of confrontation.
Thus, the first question Dareus heard while surrounded by reporters after last Thursday's OTA practice at New Era Field was, "What's life been like with Mike Waufle?"
"It’s been challenging," Dareus said. "Dealing with an ex-Marine, he don't play no games, he ain't cutting no corners with us. But it’s well-deserved; we need it. We're trying to be the best we can possibly be and he’s a hell of a coach and we're excited to have him."
How is Dareus dealing with McDermott's overall program so far?
"I mean, the structure, alone, is pretty detailed," Dareus said. "I don’t want to say he micro-manages, but he makes sure we're very sharp on what we're doing." The coaches "are really on us and they're paying a lot of attention to a lot of small details, making sure we're doing the right things.
"Hey, man, I’m happy for him to be here and just really excited to see what we can do."
Give Dareus points for saying the right things. He has done that before, in the face of those multiple controversies.
But does the program fit him? Does it make him feel uncomfortable?
"Honestly, I wouldn’t know until we get some toys on to go play, until we get some pads, the helmet …" Dareus said. "This is all fun. We're getting the fundamentals down. That’s cool with me. But once we start making some noise out there, that’s when we we'll start figuring out what we're doing."
He's thrilled that fellow defensive tackle Kyle Williams, who turned 34 Saturday, is still around. Williams was thought to be a potential offseason casualty on a team looking to reduce its hefty cap load. There was speculation that, with more than enough money in the bank and a young family to enjoy, he'd either choose to retire on his own or be nudged to do so.
Besides remaining a solid contributor on the field, Williams is one of the Bills' foremost defensive leaders. He has served as a big brother to Dareus, giving him a sympathetic ear and plenty of advice through the years. Clearly, not all of it has registered, but Dareus understands what Williams means to the team and especially to him.
"That is a great weight lifted off my shoulders," Dareus said of Williams' return. "Words can’t express how I feel for him just coming back and playing with us again. He doesn’t have to do it, but he loves the Buffalo Bills. He’s doing it for the team and he wants to see us get across that threshold."
Doing so will require the Bills to make dramatic improvement on a defense that has ranked 19th the past two seasons. Dareus' slide from 2014, when he had 10 sacks and was a force in the middle that most opposing offensive lines couldn't handle, played a major role in the defensive shortcomings.
Dareus looked like a natural for the 4-3 defense the Bills employed in '14, Jim Schwartz's lone season as their coordinator. McDermott and new coordinator Leslie Frazier also will employ a 4-3 that is similar to Schwartz's.
But Dareus isn't ready to declare he's going to thrive in the McDermott-Frazier system.
"Realistically, I really can’t say until we get to camp and get some pads on," Dareus said. "Right now, we're just going over a real basic, vanilla form of our playbook so we can get communication down. I’m just really excited for camp so we can really see what we’ve got going on.
"It’ll" provide "a better understanding of what I will be doing."
For that matter, the entire season should give a pretty strong indication of whether Dareus and discipline can find a way to co-exist.