Bills defensive end Greg Rousseau (50) has two sacks through the first two weeks of the 2022 season.
As a former first-round draft pick, Greg Rousseau knows lofty expectations come with the territory.
It’s clear when listening to Von Miller speak, however, that nothing fans or media might expect out of the Buffalo Bills’ second-year defensive end comes close to matching the ceiling the team’s future Hall of Fame pass rusher sees for Rousseau.
“He has all the ability and the mindset to be the best pass rusher in the league,” Miller said this week. “It’s going to happen. It’s just sometimes things take a little bit of time. The trajectory he’s on, man, he’s on a great path. I’m excited for him.”
Best pass rusher in the league? Miller knows how that sounds. Hearing him speak, though, makes it sound less like hyperbole or bravado and more like the observations of a 12th-year veteran who is known to study all the greats of the game.
“Yeah, he has everything you need,” Miller said of Rousseau. “He has the size – he’s 6-7, 260 pounds. He’s fast. He’s long. He’s rangy. He can play like JJ Watt if he wanted to with the swim moves and the speed to power and just the subtle dips. He can burst off the edge like Myles Garrett. He’s going to have a really bright career, man. I’ve seen it up close and personal. From a media perspective, y’all just see the games and stuff, but I’ve seen it since I very first got here, and I’m telling you he has a very, very bright future ahead of him.”
Through the first two games of the season, Rousseau has flashed signs of what might be to come.
“I think he has really picked up where he left off last year,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said. “Very conscientious, hard worker, very detailed. He’s a pro, so I think he’s really making good progress and he’s playing confident football. He and Von have a good relationship as well and that’s helped.”
Rousseau has a pair of sacks – tied with Miller for the team lead – and has been a force against the run in the Bills’ 2-0 start. He has five tackles and six total pressures. Against Tennessee, Rousseau even showed his versatility by moving inside, lining up at defensive tackle. It was from that position he sacked Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
“I’m really not surprised by any of his success,” Miller said. “I’m happy for him, all the work that he’s put in in OTAs, in training camp. Rushing from inside, rushing outside, rushing on the left, rushing on the right, it’s starting to work for him. He’s so versatile. Like, he can play in the three (technique), he can play over the center, he can play left side, right side.”
Rousseau is modest in his dealings with the media, but he couldn’t help but break into a sly smile when Miller’s words were repeated back to him.
“That’s what’s up,” he said. “I appreciate that. It means a lot, obviously, coming from Von, a future Hall of Famer, first ballot, but more importantly, just a great dude. He’s been great. I feel like he’s really helped me grow a lot as a player in the short time he’s been here, just the energy he’s brought, the wisdom, the experience. I couldn’t be more grateful for Von being here.
“When it comes to that statement (about one day being the best pass rusher in the league), God willingly, yeah, someday, for sure, but I know I’ve got a long way to go and I know I’ve got to take it one day at a time and one week at a time. It’s a week-to-week league. You can’t ride the rollercoaster. You can play good one week and get humbled the next week, so I feel like you’ve got to bring it every single down you’re out there. You’ve got something to prove. You can’t ever be like, ‘Oh I did this, I’m this guy.’ Von’s still proving that every day at practice.”
Rousseau opted out of the 2020 college football season due to the Covid-19 pandemic, so when he made his debut for the Bills a year ago it had been a long time since he had played in a competitive, meaningful game. The adjustment, then, was as much mental as it was physical.
“I feel like with your rookie year, you’re not worried so much about how to win your reps one-on-one, but more so ‘How does this go? What’s it like being in the league? How do you play this play? How do you rush against this or that?’ You’re just learning as you go, because the league is so different from college,” he said. “In your second year, you’ve already seen it that first year, you know what to expect out there and now it’s just all about really being the best player you can be. I mean, you’re still going to be learning and you’re still going to have tough lessons, but you’ve seen most of it if you’ve played a full season. You’ve seen what is expected. You know what it takes to win and what’s not going to cut it.”
Miller formed almost an immediate bond with Rousseau, who had four sacks as a rookie. Rousseau was among the defensive ends at Miller’s pass rush summit in June in Las Vegas and Miller could routinely be seen coaching Rousseau during drills in training camp. Miller has described the process as “like polishing a diamond.”
In addition to playing faster, Rousseau also credited Miller with changing his approach. That goes for the entire defensive line, too.
“Von has brought an aggressive mindset, it’s a take-your-shot type of mindset,” Rousseau said. “Our coach reinforces that each and every day, so just being able to play like that and know you have some people out there like Von, people I trust, people that I know are going to get the job done. Especially with our four-man rushes, four equals one. If one person is out of position, the quarterback can step up. I know the three other guys are going hard, so I’ve got to do my part, and that gives me all the confidence in the world.”
McDermott refers to Miller’s influence as “just seeing it through the eyes of the helmet, is how I like to say it.”
“The perspective that a veteran player has that has seen a lot of things flash in front of his face. ‘Here’s an overset, here’s a blocker that’s profiling you this way, chips and things that come into play,’ ” McDermott said. “On the field, at least, some of those things that come through experience.”
Nowhere on the Bills’ roster was there as much turnover in the offseason than along the defensive line. In addition to Miller, defensive tackles DaQuan Jones, Tim Settle and Jordan Phillips came aboard, as did defensive end Shaq Lawson, while long-time veterans Jerry Hughes, Mario Addison, Harrison Phillips, Star Lotulelei, Vernon Butler Jr. and Efe Obada all departed.
Coach Sean McDermott said he will not go into detail when asked whether the injuries to Jackson and/or Hyde could be long-term.
“I feel like my mentality, just working hard and being out there and playing hard has always been there, but Von just has a killer instinct. That’s new in our room — 100%,” Rousseau said. “It’s been great. I feel like me and especially the young guys, we’re all just feeding off that, being around his presence. … I feel like this year we’re a little more coordinated and we’re just a tighter-knit group.”
The Bills will need Rousseau and the four-man pass rush to stay hot Sunday. The Dolphins have an explosive passing game with wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, and the Bills are banged up in the secondary. If Rousseau and company can make things uncomfortable for Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in the pocket, it will make things that much easier for an inexperienced defensive backfield.
Miami week is always special for Rousseau, too, because it’s a homecoming. He played in college at Hard Rock Stadium as a member of the Miami Hurricanes, and grew up in nearby Hialeah. Rousseau’s first career sack came last year in Miami against the Dolphins in Week 2.
“It’s always cool playing in my college stadium and having my friends and family able to come to the game, but I try not to think about it too much because I don’t want to make it about that,” he said. “It’s about going to Miami and getting the ‘W,’ but definitely I’m happy to go back there.”
One friend Rousseau will have to wait until after Sunday’s game to catch up with is Dolphins pass rusher Jaelen Phillips. They starred together with the Hurricanes before both being chosen in the first round of the 2021 draft. Phillips told Miami reporters the two friends don’t speak during game week, but he’s been happy to see Rousseau’s success from afar.
“It’s great for Greg. I love it, man,” Phillips said. “He’s a great kid. Him and I are close. I’m always excited to see my guys have great success like that.”
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I started at The Buffalo News in 2009, and have previously been honored as one of the top 10 beat writers in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors for my coverage of the Bills. I live in Amherst with my wife, Melissa, and son, Elliott.
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Bills defensive end Greg Rousseau (50) has two sacks through the first two weeks of the 2022 season.
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