PITTSFORD, N.Y. (AP) — Mario Williams is not big on accolades, honors or reminders of how impressive the star pass-rusher was in his second season with the Buffalo Bills.
“I don’t hold on to anything from last year,” Williams said, a few days into training camp. “I’ve just got to come out here and get better.”
It’s difficult to fathom how much better Williams can get after leading Buffalo with 13 sacks — one short of matching a career best — and contributing to a defense that had a franchise-record 57 sacks.
What troubles Williams in assessing a year in which he earned his third Pro Bowl selection is how little of a dent he made in the Bills’ overall success. Buffalo went 6-10. That’s the same record Buffalo had in Williams’ first season, when the defensive end created an expectation-raising stir in free agency by signing a six-year, $100 million contract.
That’s led Williams to a sobering conclusion. As he first insisted amid the buzz his signing created, even a player nicknamed “Super Mario” can’t carry the team.
“Football is a complete and ultimate team sport. No matter what level of talent you bring in, it’s not one individual,” Williams said. “I said it then: ‘You can’t have one person completely change the whole culture.’ It can never be one person, no matter how great you are.”
That was evident last season.
Dominant as Williams and Co. were in pressuring the quarterback and finishing second in the NFL with 23 interceptions, the defense still sagged against the run.
The inconsistencies and lack of finish on offense didn’t help either. Buffalo scored three or more touchdowns in just five games, which put more pressure on the defense.
Williams has reason to be optimistic entering his ninth season.
The defense returns mostly intact. Though coordinator Mike Pettine left to take over in Cleveland, the Bills filled the job with former Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz, who has a respected track record in getting production out of his defensive linemen.
And the offense has the opportunity to improve with the additions of several new weapons — including receiver Sammy Watkins, a rookie first-round pick.
“I’m as confident as we’re sitting right here talking,” Williams said. “I mean, anything’s possible if we come out and we all perform together and we all play together as a team.”
Williams’ presence helped play havoc with opposing offenses by creating blocking mismatches for his teammates. Defensive tackle Kyle Williams finished with 10 1/2 sacks, matching the combined total from his previous three seasons. Linebacker Jerry Hughes had 10 sacks after managing just five in his first three seasons in Indianapolis.
“It really is the sum of all parts, but he’s a big part of it,” Kyle Williams said of Mario. “We’d rather have him than most anybody else out there. And we’re glad to have him.”
Schwartz might not have as much of a blitz-happy philosophy as Pettine did, but he understands the value of having someone like Mario Williams. He compared the threat Williams poses on defense to what Lions star receiver Calvin Johnson does on offense.
“Mario’s got a lot of the same in him. He’s so damn big, and he’s such an explosive player. Even if you move him around, they’re still going to account for him,” Schwartz said. “We can use that to our advantage. I don’t want to stretch it into saying we’ll use him as a decoy. But a great player that gets a lot of attention can create some other things for his teammates.”
Williams has always insisted it’s never been about numbers for him.
“Win football games,” Williams said. “It’s that simple.”
Being a member of winning teams has mostly eluded Williams since being drafted No. 1 by Houston in 2006.
The only time the Texans made the playoffs with Williams was in 2011, when he was sidelined by a torn chest muscle.
The itch to be part of a winner has not changed.
“I feel the same way,” Williams said. “It should never been different.”
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