Daniels becoming a force up front for Packers
Arms outstretched, Mike Daniels' facial expression was blank. Stale. After one of his two sacks inside the Metrodome on Sunday night, the Green Bay Packers defensive end gave the prime-time audience a this-is-too-easy celebration.
But he looked unsatisfied.
Maybe this is why.
“I got two—that's cute,” Daniels said. “But I really think I left about three out there.”
The search for a dangerous interior pass rusher may, finally, be over.
It's taken many an investment. The Packers drafted Mike Neal (2010) and Jerel Worthy (2012) in the second round. They made Datone Jones (2013) a first-round pick. But the answer this season has been a fourth-rounder—Daniels.
The 6-foot pound block of granite leads the defensive line with four sacks. He's been a perfect fit in Dom Capers' 3-4 scheme.
As an inside rusher, Daniels has been too low, too quick for towering linemen.
No, the search for a large pass-rushing, havoc-wreaking down lineman hasn't been easy. But so far, Daniels is crashing the party.
“I'm really continuing to work on my game to make sure that I not just become an 'Oh, he made a play, that's nice,' to 'Oh, he's an elite player, watch out,'” Daniels said. “I'm really just working toward trying to improve every week and every day.”
Outsiders shouldn't be too shocked by this guy who's all torso.
In training camp, Daniels dominated the Packers' one-on-one pass-rushing drill. Since the pads came on, he's been a different player. Health, for one, is why Daniels is excelling. Recovering from January 2012 shoulder surgery, Daniels missed most of his first off-season as a rookie. Shedding the “bad weight,” adding good weight and transferring it all to strength, explosion has been a process.
Daniels says he fluctuated between 285-294 pounds last season. He's 302 now.
With a full off-season molding the frame he desires, he grew into this tenacious ball of fury. On Sunday, he bench-pressed Charlie Johnson, shed the Vikings guard to the turf and blasted through Christian Ponder with anger.
Neal has since moved to outside linebacker. Worthy is recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Jones, who has one tackle through seven games, is still developing.
In Green Bay's nickel package, Daniels is the one getting pressure.
“I think it starts with his temperament,” Capers said. “He's a guy who's going to go 100 miles an hour every play. He's got a really good combination of strength and punch and quickness to get off a block and go close the gap.
“That's what you have to do. You've got to be able to make your move on a guy.”
Capers notes Daniels' natural leverage. That helps. He's tied for the second-shortest defensive lineman in the league. Linemen can't uproot Daniels—he's too low.
In 2012, Neal led the linemen with 41/2 sacks. In 2011, Jarius Wynn and B.J. Raji did with three apiece. And across the ball, the two teams that sent Green Bay packing each season possessed deep, disruptive defensive lines.
Green Bay needed its own fresh, violent pass rusher in the rotation.
“We're getting into a fight every play,” Daniels said. “We're active every play. Unlike offensive line, we're never going backwards. We're always going forward. We have to anticipate the snap count. We have to read blocks, so it's also more mentally taxing.
“You definitely need a couple plays to, not just catch your breath physically, but mentally just take a breather.”
Teams are bound to pay more attention to Daniels. Asked about this inevitability Wednesday, Daniels said that would be nothing new. Every player in the NFL dealt with more attention at some point in college, he says. If teams do shade a blocker his way, Daniels believes it'll free somebody else up.
His partner in nickel, Jones, hasn't made a difference yet. On Monday, Capers said the rookie is still developing.
After one of Daniels' sacks at Minnesota, Jones told him, “I should have got half of that sack!” It's easy to understand his plea. Many times, Daniels notes, Jones is “right there.” Yet, the rookie is a tick slow.
“He's just going through that same thing we all go through—being that split, half-second off,” Daniels said. “Next year, where he's that split half second off, he'll be there making that play....
“Datone is a very tough kid, tough-minded, he wants to get better and we need that. We need his type of mentality on the team.”
For now, Daniels is the solution. Not first- and second-round picks. No, it's the overlooked, undersized fourth-rounder caving the pocket. Neal's transformation to outside linebacker has come full circle. Worthy waits. Jones remains green.
As Daniels has said so many times, it's about an attitude. He's been cussing and screaming and irritating linemen since July. Now that maniac from the practice field is sacking quarterbacks on Sundays.
“It doesn't surprise me at all for sure,” inside linebacker A.J. Hawk said. “He's a guy that does things right, a young guy that works really hard. I mean, you've talked to him. He's crazy. So it's great. It's good to have a guy like that.”
In Daniels' mind, he's always leaving sacks on the field. He says his motto is “to be absolutely perfect.”
The Packers didn't need “perfect” out of this position. But a parasite on third down, a player not named Clay Matthews harassing the quarterback has been lacking the last two seasons. Daniels will reflect after the season. That's when he can look back.
Until then, he'll be disappointed with two-sack games.
“Anything short of perfect is unacceptable,” Daniels said. “Right now, I'm really just trying to make sure I can make every play, as ridiculous as that sounds, but I truly feel the great ones step on the field with that mentality, like, 'Hey, my presence is going to be felt on every snap."