Green Bay Packers DE Mike Daniels provides an inside rush
By Bob McGinn, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
~GREEN BAY, Wis. — Rapidly improving Mike Daniels has been rushing the passer at an almost identical rate as Cullen Jenkins did in his finest full seasons for the Green Bay Packers.
It has taken 2-1/2 years, but the Packers finally appear to have replaced Jenkins with an interior rusher of comparable skill and production.
“I’ll tell you what: Daniels is having a heck of a year,” an executive in personnel for an NFC team said at midweek. “If I’m talking to our offensive guards and tackles … he jumps all over the place … I’d say, ‘Hey, this is a guy you’ve got to be ready for.’
The effervescent Daniels was taken aback by the praise.
“That’s awesome,” he said Friday. “I will continue to do what I’m doing or maybe take it up a notch.”
Until six weeks ago, Daniels was backing up Mike Neal and Datone Jones as a nickel rusher and coming off the bench as the fourth or fifth defensive lineman in base.
When injuries forced the move of Neal to linebacker, Daniels got a shot inside and, in the last four games, has 3-1/2 sacks.
He might be performing as well as any player on defense.
“If he keeps this up he’s a guy that can be one of the top guys rushing inside,” said guard T.J. Lang. “He’s got leverage and he’s a strong (expletive), and he’s quick, too. He’s tough to block.
“He’s coming 100 miles an hour every single play. He’s been doing a hell of a job for us.”
Interior rushers that can beat a one-on-one block or cave in the pocket against double-teams are worth their weight in gold. After letting Jenkins walk as an unrestricted free agent in 2011, the Packers didn’t find anyone as good for two seasons.
But now here comes Daniels, a fourth-round draft choice from Iowa in 2012 who has made a robust surge in his second season.
Since 1991, the Journal Sentinel has been charting knockdowns and hurries by pass rushers. Together with sacks, the three-category statistic is referred to as pressures.
This year, Daniels has 17-1/2 pressures in 272 snaps, or one every 15.5 snaps. Pressure rates for other defensive linemen are Jones (one every 29), Johnny Jolly (one every 64.9) and B.J. Raji (one every 72.7).
When the Packers won the Super Bowl in Jenkins’ final game, he ended his seventh season with a pressure rate of one every 16.1 snaps.
Jenkins’ best mark in a full season also was one every 15.5 in 2006. He was off to a blistering start in 2008 (one every 11.6) before suffering a season-ending pectoral injury in Game 4. In Jenkins’ second season, his rate was just one every 43.3.
For Daniels, who has studied tape of Jenkins endlessly, it was music to his ears to learn his nine-game numbers were on a par with Jenkins’ top year.
“Thanks for bringing up that stat,” said Daniels. “I’ve impressed myself a little bit with that one and to be able to have caused almost as much havoc as he has. Now it will give me more incentive to put that extra work in.
“We’ll never be able to fill the Cullen Jenkins void unless they bring Cullen Jenkins back. Everybody’s a different player, everybody’s their own person. I bring what Mike Daniels can bring to the table.”
Position coach Mike Trgovac, who coached Jenkins and Daniels for two years apiece, calls them “two completely different pass rushers.”
The 32-year-old Jenkins, who will start Sunday for the New York Giants against the Packers, had better quick twitch and change of direction than Daniels, according to Trgovac.
“Mike is more of a power rusher inside,” Trgovac said. “Cullen played a little bit more than Mike’s playing. Cullen can play the run, but Mike’s probably more consistent in that regard.”
Lang has swapped trade secrets with Daniels, who can’t seem to get enough of watching the great inside pass rushers.
Perhaps the defensive tackle whom he has scrutinized the most is Cincinnati’s Geno Atkins, who had 30 sacks in his first 59 games before blowing out his knee Oct. 31.
Daniels was all over the fact that Atkins also was a fourth-round selection (he was the 120th pick in 2010, Daniels was the 132nd in ’12). He certainly can see that squatty Atkins, at 6 feet 1-1/2 inches, is just an inch taller than him.
“I’ve done my research on Geno,” Daniels said. “Of course, he’s a bit sawed-off like I am.”
Atkins and Daniels both weigh in the 300 to 305-pound range. At the combine, Atkins ran a faster 40-yard dash (4.80 to 4.86 seconds) but Daniels had a better vertical jump and broad jump.
Their arm length and hand size were almost the same.
“If I’m blessed to get a name as big as his, that would be just icing on the cake,” said Daniels. “I need to stay the course and maintain my poise and focus.”
Daniels learned his lesson a year ago when he tried to imitate some of Jenkins’ moves and it didn’t work. Now he watches Atkins, a player of more comparable stature, and strives to incorporate his strengths into his game.
“The fact that no matter what, there can be one, two, three offensive linemen on (Atkins), he can be on his knees, he continues to push the pocket,” said Daniels. “That is very important to have that kind of power and strength, and just toughness.
“I’d love to have the kind of recognition he has. Because let’s be honest. If you watch him as an offensive-line coach, I’m sure they don’t just let him get many one-on-one’s because he’s so explosive and powerful.”
Already the double-teams are coming Daniels’ away. That’s benefited Jones but has hardly deterred Daniels, whose hard, fast sacks have been clocked in 3.5, 3.9, 3.6, 3.1 and 2.5 seconds.
Early in the week, an AFC personnel man admitted he hadn’t had time to watch Green Bay much and was unaware of Daniels’ ascension. Recognition also came slowly for Jenkins and Atkins, who had 3-1/2 sacks as a rookie part-time starter before breaking loose with 21 sacks in 2011-’12.
Daniels didn’t tie for the highest Wonderlic intelligence test score (28) among defensive tackles in his draft class by being unaware of the five-year extension signed by Atkins in September that included $15 million guaranteed.
Twenty-five games and 6-1/2 sacks into a career, Daniels tempers dreams with reality.
“I just have to take it play by play,” he said. “I’ll see what’s going on with the contract when I’m done playing and I’m looking back at my 401k.”
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