JACKSONVILLE – Marcell Dareus, a 2013-2014 Pro Bowl defensive tackle and a 2014 All-Pro selection with the Buffalo Bills, joined the Jaguars in a trade from the Bills last October. The trade yielded immediate results, with Dareus playing a key role for the NFL's second-ranked defense and helping the Jaguars to their first AFC South title and their first AFC Championship Game appearance in 18 seasons. He registered 21 tackles and a sack in nine 2017 regular-season games with the Jaguars and improved in the postseason, making his first start with the team and registering two sacks and four tackles for loss in three playoff games. Dareus, an eight-year NFL veteran and the No. 3 overall selection by the Bills in the 2011 NFL Draft, has been participating in the Jaguars' 2018 offseason program. With '18 organized team activities approaching, Dareus this week spoke with senior writer John Oehser about his adjustment after the trade, the Jaguars' defense and why he thinks he can take a step up from his level of play late last season.
Question: You fit in remarkably well after the trade last October. It seemed like a seamless transition. Does that surprise you?
Answer: "(Laughing) I'm a social butterfly, man. I'm just kind of a part of things and the atmosphere. I'm just having fun, hanging out with the guys. Nothing ever changes; just the uniform."
Q: You arrived in Jacksonville in somewhat hurried circumstances, arriving in the middle of the season. Is there a benefit to having an offseason with teammates and coaches to fully prepare for next season?
A: "I'm able to get more comfortable with what we're doing and get a better understanding. It's a chance to vibe with the guys, for real. That's a huge part of the game, just being out here with the guys and getting to know them a little better rather than coming in and being forced into the situation…"
Q: I would assume there's a comfort level developing during this time …
A: "My comfort level with the game is one thing. I'm always good there. But I'm just happy to get into more in-depth detail on the layout of the playbook. It stressed me out how far off I was [at times last season]. I was just trying not to screw up. Now, I have a better understanding of it. Before, it was just, 'All right, I'm going to do what I can.' Now, to get the full breakdown … I'm just building so much more confidence in what I'm doing and with the guys. It's very cool. I'm having a good time."
Q: You improved significantly at the end of last season as you got used to the defense. But it sounds as if you feel there's another level …
A: "That's just them giving me time. I was coming off the field and going back on – coming off cold and trying to warm back up … that took a little bit of getting used to. Then they started giving me more plays, more time and more repetition [as the postseason approached]. I got a rhythm going in the playoffs."
Q: OTAs start Tuesday. Receivers, quarterbacks and defensive backs obviously get a lot out of the on-field work in non-contact situations. As a lineman, what do you want to get done in the next month?
A: "There's plenty I can get out of the next four weeks. Every day you always learn a little bit, trying to get something out of every day. Outside of that, everything takes care of itself. You learn a little bit and it turns into a lot."
Q: Weird question: Do you feel like a Jaguar now? You were with the Bills for a long time, and it can take a long time for a player to get acclimated. But from an outsider's point of view, it feels like you've been with this team for five years. Does it feel that way to you?
A: "(Laughing) [Jaguars Head Coach Doug] Marrone knew what he was getting and he knew what kind of team he had. He knew I would mesh pretty well. That's what there was to it. But I do. I am a Jaguar. I feel like this is my home. I feel good here. I'm comfortable. I'm blessed. It's where I am and ultimately where I should be and supposed to be. I'm having a great time. It just feels so natural. "Organic" is a better way to say it. It just felt organic. Even though it was a forceful change, getting here felt so organic that it wasn't a hard transition."
Q: You make it sound easy. Not every trade works out that way.
A: "(Laughing) I've never been in a situation where I couldn't find a comfort zone, so it wasn't a big deal to me. You can throw me in any situation, I'll make it fun. You can throw me in a kindergarten class I'll make it fun. That's just me."
Q: We've talked about you individually, but what's your vibe on this defense? Can it be better?
A: "I don't know. I would say the best in the league – and we can do that again. That's not a problem."
Q: The reason I ask is it seems continuity and chemistry on defense could lead to improvement. You were here a half season. [Defensive end] Calais [Campbell] was in his first season here. So were [cornerback] A.J. [Bouye] and [safety] Barry [Church]. Is there room for another step forward?
A: "We can be the best defense in the league again and still do record-breaking things. We can definitely go out here and whoop some ass. The sky's the limit, man."