- Jeffri Chadiha, ESPN Staff Writer
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As easy as it is to think differently right now, the Buffalo Bills should keep their faith in Pro Bowl defensive lineman Marcell Dareus. His two arrests in less than a month certainly are a startling set of circumstances. The likelihood that he could face some punishment from the NFL also can't sit well with his employers. But there's also more to Dareus than what he's shown off the field of late. This is the time where he has to start allowing that side to be what truly defines him.
The Bills realize they've hit a critical juncture with a player who was the third overall pick in the 2011 draft and a first-time Pro Bowler this past season. Dareus has to realize that as well. After his arrest last Friday following an apparent drag race, he now is facing three misdemeanor charges in New York and felony drug charges in Alabama (he was arrested May 5 for allegedly speeding and possessing synthetic marijuana). The astounding part of all this is that Dareus -- who has agreed to not participate in the remainder of the team's current OTA program -- hasn't been known as the type who would run afoul of the law.
Dareus made that case last Wednesday when he spoke to reporters after an OTA session, saying he wasn't "a trouble guy" and that "things happen" when asked about his arrest in Alabama. Now he needs to back up those comments by regaining the same attitude that helped make him the No. 3 overall pick in the first place. It's one thing to downplay off-field problems after one incident. He can't be nearly as cavalier after being jailed just days after Bills head coach Doug Marrone warned his players to make good decisions with their spare time.
Only Dareus can explain why he crashed his Jaguar into a tree while allegedly racing in Hamburg, New York. What he can do is take a hard look at himself and evaluate where his life is heading. The NFL already has watched two Pro Bowl players make major headlines with off-field behavior recently: San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith and Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon. The last thing commissioner Roger Goodell needs to see is another rising star jeopardizing his career before it ever hits full throttle.
The important thing to know about Dareus is that he isn't lying -- he's not a bad guy. But he is an immature young man who seems to have too much talent and money on his hands. If he did some soul-searching, he would look back on the road that led him to NFL riches. It was one filled with numerous challenges, starting with the fact that he's lost so many people who loved him along the way.
When Dareus was 6 years old, his father (Jules) died. Dareus' mother (Michelle Luckey) died before the start of his junior season at Alabama. The grandmother who helped raise him (Ella Alexander) passed away when he was 13. The high school football coach who mentored him (Scott Livingston) was killed in a car crash the day Dareus signed with Alabama, and a close friend (former Mississippi State defensive end Nick Bell) died from cancer while Dareus was in college. Tragedy struck Dareus once again this past season, when his younger brother, Simeon Gilmore, was shot and killed in a triple homicide in Pelham, Alabama.
Before the murder of his brother, Dareus had found a way to turn those tragedies into positives. Because his mother was confined to a wheelchair because of congestive heart problems, he spent his high school years in the home of a junior ROTC officer named Lester Reasor. Don't think that Dareus didn't learn a few things about discipline and accountability in those days. He was so focused in college that he celebrated Alabama's national championship during the 2009 season by hanging out with his family in a hotel room.
Dareus needs to remember that grounded kid today. He has to understand that painful life experiences are no excuse for tainting the reputation he built while he was dreaming about life in the NFL. It's too easy to say everything that has happened to him recently is the result of a young man grappling with adversity. Grief and sorrow surely didn't put Dareus in a position where, according to police, he was drag racing near a busy intersection.
That sounds more like the kind of behavior that led to the death of another former NFL defensive lineman who was blessed with similar athletic gifts. His name was Darrell Russell, and the Oakland Raiders selected him with the second overall pick in the 1997 draft. Russell was talented enough to play in two Pro Bowls. He also failed seven drug tests, served more than 1½ years' worth of suspensions and wound up as a defendant in a 2002 rape case that eventually ended when the charges were dropped by the prosecution.
Like Dareus, Russell was funny, likable and freakishly athletic for somebody so big. But questionable decisions eventually cost Russell his career and ultimately his life. On Dec. 15, 2005, he was a passenger in a car driven by a former USC teammate who was racing with another vehicle in Los Angeles. By the time Russell and his friend arrived at a nearby hospital later that night -- after crashing into two trees, a light pole, a newsstand, a fire hydrant and finally an unoccupied transit bus -- both were pronounced dead.
It's too early to predict a morbid future for Dareus, but the initial similarities are impossible to overlook. Russell was living his dream and was too intoxicated by his fantasy life to slow down. He also had issues with discipline before he ever entered the NFL. Conversely, the only significant blight on Dareus' résumé before now was a trip he took to a party in Miami before his junior year at Alabama, an event thrown by an agent that resulted in Dareus' serving a two-game suspension.
The people who would like to think that mistake foreshadowed where he is now are missing the bigger picture. Dareus made a bad decision then, largely because he was following the moves of friends. These latest struggles appear to have more to do with a 24-year-old who still has to grow up. The people who loved him most would have a difficult time making sense of the problems he's created for himself.
This is what the Bills have to consider as they move forward. There are many options to weigh with Dareus -- they can stick with him, trade him or even release him if things somehow worsen dramatically -- and Marrone recently told reporters that he believes in Dareus and "will do everything I can to make sure that we can get him on the right track."
The most important thing they have to ascertain is what it really will take for Dareus to turn his life back in a proper direction. If he thinks about the road that got him to the NFL in the first place, he'll see it's not such a tough pivot to make.