PITTSFORD, N.Y. — On top of all the challenging drills that provide substance to the rigors of training camp, the Buffalo Bills are fully engaged in the waiting game.
This is the "Dareus" drill.
Not only were the Bills waiting Tuesday for the talented defensive tackle to return to camp from a court hearing in Alabama stemming from an offseason arrest, they are waiting for him to pass the conditioning test he flunked a few days ago and finally hit the practice field.
And no doubt, in the bigger picture they are also waiting for Dareus to demonstrate that in the face of adversity, including personal tragedies and personal foolishness, he has enough of a grip on himself to realize his vast potential as a man first, and then as a football player.
"He's going through a tough time," Bills safety Aaron Williams told USA TODAY Sports. "But we're here for him. He has to realize that he has some brothers here, too."
Williams, the second-round pick in the same draft class in 2011 when the Bills selected Dareus with the third pick overall, shook his head when considering some of the tragedies his teammate has endured.
In 2012, Dareus' brother was shot during a triple homicide. He lost his mother during his sophomore year in college. His father passed when he was six. The day Dareus declared that he would attend Alabama, the high school coach who was his mentor, died in a car crash. And near the end of his college career, he lost a close friend to cancer.
The string of tragedies is not an excuse for the off-the-field situations that have unfolded, but they provide pause for rushing to judgment.
"Every guy has their own story," Williams said. "It may be a lot deeper with Marcell. You've got to understand where people come from and what they've gone through. I can't fathom the losses he's had. I know that deep down, there's a lot of heartache going on in there.
"You've got to stick with him."
Dareus, 24, earned his first Pro Bowl trip last season. But instead of highlighting how he should be a major cog in the defense that new coordinator Jim Schwartz is designing, the focus in recent weeks has been his blunders.
The big issue with his arrest in Alabama was the possession of synthetic marijuana. The pre-trial diversion program he entered Monday could expunge the charges. But Dareus was also cited in suburban Buffalo for three misdemeanors after smashing his Jaguar into a tree during an apparent illegal drag racing incident. That was just weeks after his Alabama arrest.
Then Dareus, listed at 6-3, 331, showed up to camp out of shape. He was unable to complete the 10 half-gassers in the time required for his position. The test included a two-minute break after the first five sprints.
If his case doesn't underscore the fine line connecting support and accountability, it should.
Mario Williams, the star defensive end, told reporters this week he has faith Dareus will put it together, but added, "We hold him accountable like anybody who's been here 12, 15 years."
How exactly do teammates hold him accountable?
"That's something I can't tell you," Mario replied.
"We just had a meeting on workplace respect. So I can't tell you what goes into that."
The NFL will likely hold Dareus accountable, too, to some degree. It's likely he will draw a suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy.
With their depth lacking at D-tackle, the Bills are likely developing contingency plans for the games that Dareus might miss.
That's part of the deal in the NFL. Adjust for injuries. Adjust for suspensions.
Bills general manager Doug Whaley hardly sounds like a man at the point of running out of patience with Dareus, even though he was disappointed the second offseason incident came after a heart-to-heart talk followed the first incident.
When Whaley mentions evaluating player drama on a "case by case basis," it's obvious talent is a huge factor. It's the NFL. Strong and agile 330-pound D-tackles don't grow on trees, which is one reason the Bills exercised the fifth-year option that ties him to the team through 2015.
"If he was a malicious guy and you looked him in the eye and he wasn't remorseful, you'd take a different course of action," Whaley told USA TODAY Sports. "But when you've been around this guy and you know him, you know he must make better choices."
And the Bills are waiting for that to happen.
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