Bills DT Star Lotulelei returns after opting out of 2020 season

Buffalo Bills

FILE – In this Aug. 23, 2019, file photo, Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Star Lotulelei (98) watches following an NFL preseason football game against the Detroit Lions in Detroit. Having rejoined the team after opting out last season for COVID-19 reasons, Lotulelei’s return is being counted upon to shore up a defense that struggled at times stopping the run. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson, File)

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WIVB) – Watching last season’s success from the couch was so tough for Bills defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, at times he couldn’t even turn the TV on.

“It was tough, I didn’t watch every game because it was a little tough, especially the last game, but I was happy the team was doing so well. It was a bummer not to be a part of it, I made the decision I don’t regret it and I was happy for the guys, we’ll see what happens this year,” Lotulelei said on a zoom call with reporters.

Lotulelei hasn’t played in a game since that Wild Card loss to the Texans that ended the Bills’ 2019 season. But now he’s back for the first time after opting out last season because of the pandemic.

“Pretty much all the uncertainty going o at that time, not knowing what would happen, I felt like the best decision for me my wife and my kids and that was it,” Lotulelei said.

But even after not playing for a full season, Lotulelei looks to be in great shape.

“I’m a little lighter, not too far off of what I am in the season, I always start out a little lighter, just happy to be back.”

Even though he might not have that flashy play or eye popping stats in tackles or sacks, he is an important piece of this defense. His absence was noticeable last year. As far as what he can do this year, that remains to be seen.

“At the end of the day we’ll have to see because of the time he’s been out. So that remains to be seen. Overall, size, some leadership, leadership component he brings to our team, more by example than verbally, but the early down ability to give us a point of attack up front is what I remember the most,” Bills head coach Sean McDermott said.

Lotulelei is especially important in the middle of that defensive line when it comes to stopping the run, which is an area the Bills struggled with at times last season finishing 26th in yards per rush.

“I took 3 to 4 weeks off then back to working out ever since, I enjoyed it but my wife wasn’t so into it as I was, she was getting sick of me, I was ready to come back,” Lotulelei laughed.

“There’s definitely been a gap in terms of his playing of late just in terms of him being here so there is going to be some catching up to do, it is good to have him here and participating, I’m sure his teammates feel the same way, and so he can help us, we all know that, he’s going to have to continue to put the work in to get himself back, acclimated, comfortable,” McDermott explained.

In addition to working out and staying in shape, Lotulelei used his time off to do something he doesn’t get to do much of during a season, spend time with his family.

“It was great, got to see my kids play sports, be around the house, so it was good, but I knew when I was watching the team last season that I wasn’t done. Great to be out with the guys again today.”

And his teammates are excited to have him back as well.

“Star is one of the favorites on the team, doesn’t say two words throughout the entire year. He has a new hairstyle that looks a little scarier,” Bills quarterback Josh Allen joked.

“He looks good though, moving around really well, it was good for his body that he’s completely healed up, playing that position you get banged up throughout the year, he’s going to be fresh for us. Good that he’s back the things he can do on the field are special. He’s great to have in the locker room even though he doesn’t say much.”

Lotulelei skipped voluntary OTAs but returned for the team’s mandatory mini camp that wraps up on Thursday before their break leading up to training camp.

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