FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Aaron Maybin is still unsure why things went so wrong in Buffalo.
Lots was expected from the Bills’ 2009 first-round draft pick, who took his reputation as a pass-rushing presence with him to Buffalo along with an intimidating nickname that promised excitement: “Mayhem.”
Just over two years later, Maybin was being called plenty of other things. But this might have been the one that hurt most: “Bust.” His Bills career was over before it really started: No sacks, no starts, no respect.
“Honestly, it’d be hard to sit here and wonder why, and that’s not really even a concern for me anymore,” Maybin said. “I stopped worrying about what went wrong in Buffalo a long time ago.”
Maybin struggled with keeping his weight up in Buffalo, and looked more physically like a safety than a linebacker. His production suffered, and he was cut this past offseason. He signed with the New York Jets, who also released him before the season, but brought him back for another chance a few weeks ago.
“One thing we were missing was a guy with a great get-off that had some explosiveness,” defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said. “It was unfortunate the way the roster played out early on that we had to let him go. We were fortunate to be able to get him back because we knew what he brought to the table.”
Suddenly, things have started to work out for Maybin, who has become one of Rex Ryan’s favorites and a pass-rushing force in limited snaps. He has three sacks and three forced fumbles, and Ryan expects Maybin to get more playing time — starting Sunday against his former team.
“I feel great,” Maybin said. “This is one of my stronger weeks of practice I’ve had here, if not the strongest, as far as mental preparation. As far as excitement goes, I was ready a couple of weeks ago.”
You better believe he’s had his eye on this game against Buffalo since coming back with the Jets. To his credit, though, Maybin has not expressed any bitterness toward the Bills or the fans in Buffalo.
“I felt this way all along,” he said. “I’ve never been the kind of guy to do my talking in the media. I do my talking on Sundays on the field. That’s the extent of that. I have nothing negative to say, I’ve got no sound bytes to give anybody that’s going to make big headlines on SportsCenter. I’m just ready to play again.”
After all, Maybin has been waiting a while for this. He was a playmaker in two seasons at Penn State with 16 sacks, including 12 in his second season. Early in his career, Penn State coach Joe Paterno butchered his name and instead called him “Mayhem,” which fans jumped on immediately. There were signs that read “Maybin’s Mayhem” scattered throughout the stadium and NFL stardom seemed a given, especially because of his natural athletic ability.
Then came two lost seasons in Buffalo, including last year, when he averaged just five snaps a game.
“It didn’t work out,” Bills center Eric Wood said. “I know a lot of people have dogged him, but there’s one thing he did: He worked hard. I guess it’s paying off for him now.”
It sure is. Mayhem is back, and Maybin couldn’t be happier.
“Making a statement, that’s for somebody who’s concerned only about their own success,” he said. “My success is important to me and everything, but it ties into what the team’s doing. It’s a matter of whatever the team needs to get the ‘W.’”
On Sunday, that might be Ryan and Pettine sending him onto the field on third down with one objective: Get the quarterback.
“He creates havoc whenever he’s out there in the roles we ask him to do,” linebacker David Harris said. “We know this week, he’s going to be a little bit more juiced up for it since that’s his former team and he knows a lot of those guys personally. It’ll be fun seeing out there Sunday.”
The capper could come if he gets a sack, something Maybin acknowledged would be a sweet feeling.
“Oh, yeah, that goes without question,” Maybin said. “It was something I was never able to accomplish while I was there in the regular season. For me to go out there and have the opportunity to be able to do that now, it would definitely be exciting.”
Bills coach Chan Gailey has been impressed by what he has seen on film from Maybin.
“He’s hustling,” he said. “He’s made a few plays for them. He’s the Energizer Bunny out there. He keeps going and going and going. I mean, he plays hard.”
Pettine said Maybin, signed by the Jets after the third game of the season, has been working closely with outside linebackers coach Mike Smith and the team has tried to not give him too much responsibility in the defense.
“We’ve really just gone week to week with it, instead of trying to give him the whole thing, so it’s just been on a week-to-week basis,” Pettine said. “I think he’s had a wristband, which I think has helped — when he’s looked at it.”
Pettine was joking, but added that one thing Maybin has been able to do is force quarterbacks to speed up their throws and step up sooner than they want. That increases the chances of him or the rest of the defense being able to make a play.
“It’s only a matter of time before he can handle all of the third-down stuff,” Pettine said, “but it’s probably going to be sooner than later.”
Ryan will make Maybin a team captain Sunday, meaning he’ll go out to the middle of the field at Ralph Wilson Stadium — this time as an opposing player who’s finally starting to live up to all the hype.
“I could sit here and try to assume what that’s going to be like, but I don’t think even I have any idea,” Maybin said. “I’m pretty sure it’s going to be an emotional time for me.”