"My technique is still a little sloppy in a lot of ways. There's a lot of things I need to do to continue to improve. It's clear that I missed some days," the Green Bay Packers' rookie defensive lineman said.
Daniels has missed a lot of days. He sustained a torn labrum before Iowa's bowl game against Oklahoma. He played in the game, then had surgery that kept him out of the Senior Bowl and Scouting Combine and prevented him from getting on the field for the Packers until training camp. Then, just as he began finding his groove, Daniels missed a week — including last week's preseason game at San Diego — with knee and groin injuries.
Daniels returned to practice this week and will play in his first game against Cleveland on Thursday night.
"I still feel as though I'm light-years away from where I need to be," Daniels said. "I'm building up on each day. Building from the positives and learning from the negatives."
While position coach Mike Trgovac said Daniels (6-0, 294) is a "good run player," Daniels was drafted with the expectation that he could bolster a defensive line that contributed just six sacks last season. Daniels, who had nine sacks as a senior and 15 for his career, has spent most of training camp with the No. 2 defense, both as an end in the base defense and as a nickel pass rusher.
"He's got potential — big time," Trgovac said. "He'll stick his face and hands in there and he's physical and got very quick feet. Hopefully we can keep him healthy and keep him going because I think he can help us."
There is no denying Daniels is one tough customer. While he didn't know it at the time, Daniels tore his labrum during preparations for the Insight Bowl game against Oklahoma. Daniels had one of the best games of his career with two sacks among his three tackles for losses.
"I just wanted to play," Daniels said when asked how he got through that game with such a severe injury. "Oklahoma's a heck of an opponent and I knew I'd never have an opportunity to play them again. I really wanted to show that we could compete against those top-tier teams — they came into the season ranked No. 1. I didn't want to miss my last college game. I didn't even realize it was torn. I just felt some pain, and in this sport, you're going to be hurt and you're going to feel pain."
Daniels then turned his attention to the draft but the pain in the shoulder wouldn't go away.
"I was still working out like I used to," Daniels said. "I put up 27 reps on the (225-pound) bench and I had stopped because the pain just got to be too much. I really felt like, dang, I need to get this checked out because I love working out, and if I can't do what I love to do, I need to see what's wrong."
That led to a frustrating time. The Senior Bowl and Scouting Combine are the two biggest events of the offseason circuit but Daniels was forced to watch with the scouts instead of trying to impress them. Daniels was selected by Green Bay with a fourth-round compensatory pick, going No. 132 overall and as the 26th defensive lineman off the board.
Then, it was more waiting as he awaited clearance from the Packers' medical staff.
Turns out, it was time well spent.
"The thing that helped me out is the fact that I'm here and they got me where they got me despite the injury and knowing that I wouldn't be able to be 150 percent like I want to be," Daniels said. "I was thankful to be here and I was willing to make the most of it. I'm not the first person who was drafted with an injury. I put it in that perspective to really push through it and improve in ways that I probably wouldn't have improved if I would have just got right on the field. It really helped me get acclimated to Green Bay and I really had time to learn the playbook. I got to come in and strengthen up muscles in my body that I didn't focus a whole lot on during my previous years of training."
Daniels says he's not concerned about the race for a roster spot or the chance to earn his role on the defense. As a pass rusher, he's probably battling fourth-year pro Jarius Wynn for a roster spot, then potentially will have to hold off Mike Neal when Neal comes off suspension after Week 4. Right now, Daniels' only focus is being sharp rather than sloppy.
"I'm definitely kicking off rust. It's there — it's clearly there," he said. "I've learned a lot — I've learned a whole lot — from Coach Trgovac and a lot of the vets on the D-line and the O-line. It's a different ball game in the NFL and I'm trying to take everything that I already know and incorporate the things that I'm learning from everybody around this building so that I can be a factor on this defense."
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