JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Marcell Dareus stood on the sideline watching the Pittsburgh Steelers drive down the field against his teammates Sunday as time drained off the fourth-quarter clock.
The Jacksonville Jaguars’ defensive tackle, the third overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft by the Buffalo Bills, has started all 10 games in his first full season with the reigning AFC South champs. But the former star defensive lineman, in his eighth pro season, is a role player on an underachieving team, his primary responsibility to stop the run.
“I think Marcell is playing as well as any defensive lineman (against) the run,” said former Jaguars tackle Tony Boselli, a commentator on the team’s radio network. “He’s not rushing the passer like he has in the past, and he’s not getting as many reps on third-down situations, partly because it’s not what they’re asking.”
Dareus, who was listed as questionable entering the game against the Steelers with back and triceps injuries, was granted one final opportunity to try to prevent the Jaguars’ second-half collapse, inserted with Pittsburgh facing first-and-goal at the 1-yard line with only eight seconds remaining. Ben Roethlisberger took the snap and ran to his right, away from Dareus, and bowled over linebacker Myles Jack for the game-winning touchdown.
Dareus played a season-low 24 of 65 defensive snaps, or 37 percent of possible plays, and recorded one tackle as the Jaguars lost to the Steelers, 20-16, on Sunday at TIAA Bank Field. Pittsburgh scored 20 unanswered points to steal the victory and send the Jaguars to their sixth consecutive loss.
Jacksonville, which reached the AFC Championship Game and nearly the Super Bowl last season, owns a 3-7 record entering this week’s game against the Bills at New Era Field. It will be Dareus' first game in Buffalo since he was traded in late October 2017 for what became a fifth-round draft pick.
Dareus has recorded 28 tackles, a safety, a sack and a forced fumble this season. The analytics website Pro Football Focus grades him 16th against the run and 19th overall out of 118 qualified interior defensive linemen entering Week 11. He’s made seven tackles for either no gain or a loss, including stuffing Roethlisberger on third-and-1 in the first quarter Sunday.
“The Buffalo thing is a long time ago,” Jaguars coach and former Bills coach Doug Marrone said Monday. “I can only really talk about right now, and he’s doing a very good job for us. He’s been a big part of being able to stop the run and handling double teams, keeping people off the linebackers.
"He’s done a real good job in the locker room, a real good job in practice and all those things, so really right now, everything that we’re asking from Marcell we’re getting out of him and he’s doing a really good job.”
Dareus was in no mood to talk after losing to the Steelers. He dressed and declined an interview, saying he needed to visit the team’s medical staff, and he was unavailable Monday, after the team was granted the day off by Marrone.
But Dareus’ teammates didn’t shy from discussing his contributions on and off the field since he was acquired.
“When we added him last year, our run defense was kind of struggling, and he came in and shored all that up,” Jaguars safety Barry Church said. “He’s a heck of a player and I’m glad we added him last year. Hopefully, he stays here going forward.”
“He’s a strong guy. He’s got long arms, strong hands, he’s very quick. He’s kind of got the whole package, really,” center Tyler Shatley said. “He’s hard to stay on and he can make those plays. He’s a great guy. He’s one of my favorite guys in here. Real funny. He’s a character.”
“The most important thing he’s brought is leadership,” defensive end Calais Campbell said. “He’s come in with a mentality of helping everybody else around him get better. That’s really what I appreciate the most, because you hear a lot of stories about the guy, and I had met him a couple of times at the Pro Bowl and other stuff, and it’s like, ‘OK, I don’t know what people outside are seeing. Because what I see, maybe it’s maturity, but what I see is a guy who comes to work every day trying to make everyone around him better. And I can live with that. He’s been very beneficial for me.”
The Bills traded Dareus to the Jaguars, eager to rid themselves of a cumbersome contract for an underachieving player and an occasional headache off the field.
Dareus was charitable and involved in the community during his 6½ seasons in Buffalo. He was liked by his teammates. And he was productive on game days, at least for his first several years in the league.
Dareus had twice been named to the Pro Bowl and was tabbed a first-team All-Pro in 2014, when he racked up 10 sacks. But his tenure in Buffalo included benchings, suspensions and arrests for marijuana possession and drag racing. He is facing sexual assault lawsuits from two women.
The Bills signed Dareus to a monstrous six-year, $96 million extension early in the 2015 season, but his production dropped precipitously.
He managed just 5½ sacks over the next two seasons and was shipped out after playing just five games for Bills coach Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.
Dareus was sent home from the the Bills' third preseason game last year and then played in 34 snaps in the season opener, his fewest snaps when healthy since Week 11 of the 2014 season. McDermott said at the time that the Bills were using a rotation and he was looking to get "the best 11" on the field.
In the aftermath of the Jaguars' victory against the Bills in the wild-card round in January, Dareus said the Bills treated him "like a nobody" but also said he loved the city and the fans. “This organization has changed my life,” Dareus told Jacksonville.com of his arrival with the Jaguars. "I’m just overjoyed for the opportunity to play.”
Dareus counts $14.2 million against the Bills' cap this season. They saved $2.375 million by dealing him. He will not count against the team’s cap after this season. He is making a $9.925 million base salary this season in Jacksonville with three years remaining on his contract with an out before next season.
“What I was impressed with,” Boselli said, “was he came in this offseason, you can tell he took care of his body, was in great shape for training camp, he just looked good and was running around, a lot of energy. He’s a really good player and I for one hope they figure that he’s a part of the long-term plan, because I think he really helps this team.”