PITTSFORD -- The reaction last week was predictable when it was revealed that Marcell Dareus tweaked a hamstring, an injury that ended up keeping him out of two practices.
In a word, it can be summed as "typical." After a season in which the Buffalo Bills' highest-paid player missed a total of eight games -- four because of suspension, four more because of hamstring and/or groin injuries -- fans have just about run out of patience with the defensive tackle. Some suggested he caught the "Bruce Smith flu," a nod to the Hall of Fame defensive end who didn't particularly care for practices in training camp.
Dareus was back on the practice field Tuesday at St. John Fisher College, and afterward spoke to the media for the first time since camp started last week.
"It’s feeling a lot better," he said. "With the support of the guys, it makes practice a lot easier for me. Just going out there doing what I can, getting back into it. The trainers have done a great job, trying their best to get me out there, as soon as possible."
Asked if he recalled how the injury occurred, Dareus said "all I can remember was just running and, you know, coming back into football, running into the big Eric Wood and Richie Incognito—we all know what kind of powerhouse those guys are. And just, one thing led to another, and just a really hot day, and things happen. I should have been drinking a little more."
Normally, such an admission would be no big deal. But when it comes to Dareus, his every action will come under close scrutiny. That's what happens when you're scheduled to count $16.4 million against the salary cap this season -- and have let the team down in the past.
"I have something to prove to myself and to my teammates and the fans," Dareus said. "I just want to do my best. Me doing my best I know is good enough."
Of course, just hearing that won't be enough to convince everyone. There is a significant number of fans who will still have their doubts.
"I don’t even think about them; I have no time, I have no space in my mind," he said. I have a season, I have to get prepared for my teammates, and I know they’re doing the best for me. I’m just going to continue to put one foot in front of the other, and just stay focused."
Prior to his injury, Dareus had impressed coach Sean McDermott with his conditioning throughout the spring and early part of training camp.
"It's been very positive," McDermott said last week. "Credit to him."
Those sentiments were echoed by fellow defensive tackle Kyle Williams, who last week told the team's radio show that he was impressed by where Dareus was -- both mentally and physically. His relationship with Williams is extremely important to Dareus.
"I just really want to be prepared for what we’re going for, what we’ve got planned for this year. Kyle Williams coming back was a big thing for me, so I want to the best I can for him and my teammates," he said. "I just want to come in in shape ready to go, but from there it’s just continuing to work hard, continuing to do what I need to do to fall into that role and just be the best person and player I can possibly be for my teammates."
Dareus and Williams have been teammates for the past six seasons. Entering his 12th year, Williams is the longest-tenured player on the Bills' roster. After that, it's center Eric Wood, who is going into his ninth season, and Dareus in his seventh.
"I haven’t been in too many seasons without him," Dareus said of Williams. "I mean, we’ve doing pretty well together, we have a lot of fun out there. I would say that he would be my work wife and we have good communication, so – we don’t fight, we don’t argue, we just kind of go with the flow."
Like with everyone else along the defensive line, the Bills are banking on a return to a 4-3 scheme benefiting Dareus.
"If everybody knows what they’re doing, there’s no problem with any game plan we’re going to be doing," he said. "So, whatever game plan we’re in, we’re just going to do the best we could and just focus in on know exactly knowing what we’re doing and knowing how to do it. With this defense, McDermott, he did a great job with that. He teaches me, he clarifies every position for everybody. So, do your job and everything else takes care of itself."