Packers defensive lineman Mike Daniels made a modest but promising contribution his rookie season in the NFL last year with 12 tackles two sacks.
His season was highlighted by a 43-yard fumble return for a touchdown in a game against the Detroit Lions last December, but Daniels’ goals for his second year in professional football are focused on bigger and better things.
“I’d like to make some more tackles,” said Daniels in an appearance Monday morning on Cheesehead TV’s Railbird Central. “The touchdown was more of a gift, but making big plays would be ideal.”
Moreover, Daniels continues to break stereotypes in regards to being a defensive lineman of smaller stature in the NFL.
Checking in at 6-0 and 294 lbs., Daniels is a couple inches shorter and quite a few lbs. lighter than the typical defensive lineman who plays football to make a living.
Just because he’s smaller, however, makes Daniels no less of a player. And he thinks his size can actually be an advantage.
“If you ask many offensive linemen, they’ll tell you, the guys they like to block the least are the shorter, active, more powerful guys who all fit that bill,” said Daniels. “If you look around the league, there’s quite a few guys that are vertically challenged, so to speak, and they play pretty well.
“Geno Atkins, the guy from the Bengals, comes to mind. John Randle is a Hall of Famer. He might have been smaller than me weight-wise, and he’s about 6-0, 6-1. ”
As far as Daniels is concerned, the stereotype goes beyond just defensive linemen. You don’t necessarily have to be either tall or heavy to play in the NFL, as a couple high-profile quarterbacks have also helped to prove.
“At some point people will stop pointing that out,” said Daniels. “As Drew Brees said about the quarterbacks, he was referring to Russell Wilson, and Jim Kelly said the same thing that short quarterbacks have had success. So you’ve got to stop using that against a guy at some point. But I have to carry the torch as being a quote, unquote undersized defensive lineman.”
With the Packers spending a first round draft choice on a defensive lineman in UCLA’s Datone Jones this past April, Daniels is going to have increased competition for playing time this upcoming season.
Of course, last year’s second round draft choice Jerel Worthy is out of the picture in 2013, at least in the early going. After suffering a torn ACL late last season, Worthy is a good candidate to start the season on the PUP list.
With Daniels under contract for at least the next three seasons, his future is bright. There’s currently five defensive linemen on the Packers roster whose contracts expire after the 2013 season (B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett, Mike Neal, C.J. Wilson and Johnny Jolly), and it’s a good bet they won’t all be back next year.
Known for being small but explosive, Daniels is working on being a well-rounded player this offseason. While some defensive linemen noted for their quickness tend to be situational pass rushers, Daniels is making a concerted effort to defend the run too.
“You need quickness to play the run as well,” said Daniels. “Those guys doing the running, you kind of have to catch up to them to knock them off their path, so they don’t get to the linebackers. I think I’ve acquired some quickness as well, but things I do to perfect my craft and make sure I’m an all-around player is study a lot of tape, take my individual coaching seriously, take the techniques seriously.”
With such heavy emphasis on the nickel and dime subpackages in Green Bay, it will be an uphill battle for Daniels to find playing time in a scheme that more often than not, employs only two defensive linemen on the field at any particular time.
But Daniels understands his strengths and weaknesses. He knows he has to exploit the former and minimize the latter.
“I don’t have the 340-pound anchor or the 6-6 length,” said Daniels. “So I have to play my strengths.”
Brian Carriveau is the author of “It’s Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America,” and editor of Cheesehead TV’s “Pro Football Draft Preview.” To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.