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Marcell Dareus fighting for Buffalo Bills starting job

It was one year ago at this time when we pegged Buffalo Bills defensive lineman Marcell Dareus as a man ready to be a star. Instead, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2011 draft took a step backward on the field.

Dareus' younger brother tragically was murdered only one week before the NFL season, and he struggled to focus on football early in the year.

"It's really tough to come back and think about work when every time you turn around, you lose someone that's close to you," Dareus said, via the Bills' official website. "And you really don't have a mother or father to fall back on and talk to. It took a toll on me last year. I just had to be a man and finish the season hard and suck it all up."

Dareus' play improved in the second half of the season, but the new Bills defensive coaching staff led by coordinator Mike Pettine isn't handing him anything. In three-man fronts this offseason, Alex Carrington played ahead of Dareus with the starters. In four-man fronts, Dareus was battling a 2011 undrafted player, Jay Ross, for snaps. The Bills figure to be a "multiple" defense all season, using both formations often.

Perhaps this is the coaching staff sending Dareus a message. Or perhaps it's just a recognition of where Dareus is in his young career.

For Dareus to become a potential Pro Bowl player, he first will need to earn every-down snaps.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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