Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- John McCargo hears the criticism. He tries to ignore it, but he's human. He admits it's difficult.
The Buffalo Bills defensive tackle isn't 26 years old yet. He has been called a bum, a slug, a bust. His old position coach chided him. His team gave up on him.
"When people say things, it doesn't make me mad because it's the truth," McCargo said after signing autographs at Buffalo Bills training camp on Sunday afternoon.
"I haven't played well since I've been in the league. I know that. It's not like I'm afraid to admit the truth. It's hard when you get picked in the first round, and you haven't done what you're supposed to do."
McCargo is entering a crossroads season. He intends to make this one count.
"All the naysayers and whatever, I want to show them that I am a football player, and I'm an athlete, and I didn't get picked where I did for no reason," McCargo said. "If you want to say I have a chip, sure, I do. But most of it's just me. I put the pressure on myself."
McCargo was the 26th selection of the 2006 draft. What's more, the Bills traded up to get him. They desperately dealt their No. 42 and No. 73 picks to the Chicago Bears to nab a defensive tackle because the top two already were off the board and their scouts saw a big drop off after McCargo.
Three years later, McCargo's stat line includes 28 games, zero starts and 2.5 sacks.
Buffalo's former defensive line coach, Bill Kollar, publicly questioned his desire last year. McCargo was scratched from the season opener. The Buffalo News charted McCargo for an average of 11 snaps a game, a distant fourth among their defensive tackles.
Oh, and the Bills traded him away last year. They unloaded him to the Indianapolis Colts for a fourth-round draft choice. The Colts, however, noticed McCargo had a bulging disk and voided the trade.
So McCargo slinked back to Buffalo. Eventually, the ordeal turned into an awakening.
"It definitely was an awkward situation with that," McCargo said. "It was kind of hard to brush off, but it's cool. It's all part of the business.
"Once I started looking at football like it is, a business, a lot of stuff was able to roll off my shoulders more. That's why I look at it like this: If you do what you're supposed to be doing, you'll be here; if not, you won't. If I don't do what I'm supposed to do, that's on me."
Bills head coach Dick Jauron said he viewed the voided trade with Indianapolis as an opportunity for a new beginning.
"We all did what we thought was best for everybody last year," Jauron said. "The fact that he reverted back to us turns out to be a very positive thing.
"He's had a great attitude. We've always liked him. Now we're hoping to get out of him what we believe is there."
What should help McCargo's fresh start is that Kollar joined the Houston Texans' staff. That's one bad relationship McCargo doesn't need to worry about. Bob Sanders, the former Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator, is Buffalo's new D-line assistant.
McCargo's teammates have noticed a difference.
"I expect a big year for John McCargo," Bills defensive tackle Marcus Stroud said. "He's been working very hard, and I expect him to play well for us. He definitely has the talent. Now's the time to show improvement.
"After last year, he has a newfound love for the game, a hunger. I think he's going to show that to a lot of people this year."
The answer for McCargo's lackluster play so far might be as simple as his medical chart. He missed five games of his junior season at North Carolina State because of a foot stress fracture. He opted to enter the draft a year early, believing the injury was behind him.
It wasn't. He broke his foot again five games into his rookie season and required two surgeries. He missed training camp in 2007 while recovering, but managed to play all 16 games. McCargo was a healthy scratch from last year's opener, but he played in only seven games before his back sent him to injured reserve.
"I don't think I have any motivation problems," McCargo said. "I've been hurt two out of three years. That speaks for itself. This year, I'm on a totally different page. I'm trying not to give anybody any reason to say anything negative about me out here."
McCargo said he reported to training camp somewhere around 303 or 304 pounds. He played upwards of 313 pounds last year even though his college weight was 295.
"He's shown flashes of the player I knew from scouting him out of college," Sanders said. "He's shown the quickness and speed and the things I know he has.
"He's been on a mission. He's been a guy I've been very pleased with. He's been coachable. He's trying to live up to that expectation. He doesn't hold back. He works at every drill. Go hard, play fast and be physical -- he's trying to do that."
After three unproductive NFL seasons, McCargo probably has reached that odd stage where nobody expects much of him anymore.
He arrived with the usual prospects of a first-round pick but has shown only that the Bills reached to draft him there. He hasn't been able to beat out fifth-round pick Kyle Williams or Spencer Johnson, who wasn't drafted at all and has nine career starts over five years.
What are the realistic expectations now? To produce five sacks as a player off the sideline in a four-man rotation that will let him see the field 15 or 20 times a game? Or to play like a first-round talent?
"It's either make plays or go home," McCargo said. "They gave me another opportunity to come out here and play. I've got to make the best of it. If I don'
t, I could be suiting up somewhere else."