Since his mid-season arrival, defensive tackle Marcell Dareus has overwhelmed blockers in front of him to become a dominant run stopper for the Jaguars.
Yet, Dareus still views himself an outsider on the team despite having already played in nine games.
“I didn’t go through the grind in training camp with them,’’ said Dareus, whom the Jaguars acquired in a blockbuster trade from the Buffalo Bills in October.
“I think everything starts with camp. That’s where you build that camaraderie, non-verbal communication. Respect is earned, not given. I’m just earning my respect with these guys. I’m an outsider trying to help.’’
Outsider or not, he has played like he belongs.
Before Dareus arrived, the Jaguars were second-to-last stopping the run, allowing 138.6 yards per game. However, they ended the season allowing 116.3 yards, which ranked 21st.
So from coach Doug Marrone to All-Pro defensive tackle Calais Campbell and his defensive teammates, they all like what Dareus has provided.
It was on display this past Sunday when the Jaguars beat the Bills 10-3 at EverBank Field, especially early in the game when he brushed off a low block by tackle Dion Dawkins before tossing running back LeSean McCoy for a 2-yard loss.
“He fits in very naturally,” Campbell said. “I think what we all have is that we don’t want to let each other down. That’s why I go above and beyond trying to do my job. That’s kind of our biggest motivator. Making sure we take care of our business for the man next to me because I know he’s going to take care of his business for me. That brotherhood and accountability is why we’ve been successful.”
During his 6 1/2 seasons with the Bills, Dareus had his share of low points.
In 2014, he was arrested in Alabama on charges of possession of a controlled substance and drug paraphernalia. That same year, he was also was charged with reckless driving after hitting a tree in a drag race with former teammate Jerry Hughes.
Dareus also violated the league’s substance abuse policy twice, which caused him to be suspended for the first four games of the 2016 season.
Since joining the Jaguars, Dareus hasn’t had any off-the-field problems. He said his entire focus has been on being a good teammate and making plays.
“This organization has changed my life,” Dareus said. “They’ve done such great things so far, I just don’t want mess anything up. I’m just overjoyed for the opportunity to play.”
The Jaguars hope Dareus will be able to provide more run-stopping plays on Sunday when they face the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Divisional game at Heinz Field.
They will be facing a Steelers team with plenty of offensive firepower, particularly at running back with Le’Veon Bell, who was the NFL’s third-leading rusher in the regular season with 1,291 yards.
“Those guys are all going to have to play well,” Marrone said. “I just see him doing a good job. … It’s not on what happened and all that stuff, you’ve got to push all that stuff to the side and we need you to go out there and play well.”
Pittsburgh (13-3) earned the No. 2 seed and enjoyed a first-round bye. But the Jaguars handed the Steelers their worst loss of the season during Week 5 (30-9), two weeks before they acquired Dareus. The Jaguars picked off Ben Roethlisberger five times and sacked him twice.
“They’ve been rolling, they have their focus,’’ Dareus said. “Their running game is good. Their quarterback is a hall of famer. We have a game on our hands.’’
If the Jaguars are going to have any chance beating Pittsburgh, they need superb pass-rush pressure, run-stopping ability and takeaways.
Dareus said he’s just thankful the Jaguars are one of the eight teams still playing heading into the second week of the playoffs.
Facing his former team for the first time since he was traded last week in the first round wasn’t easy.
“It was pretty tough just because they were friends of mine,” Dareus said. “At this point, they are still good friends of mine. It’s just great to have an opportunity to play another game, have another practice with these guys. It’s good to see all the hard work pays off to finally finish what you been working on all week.”