Daniels Adds Power to Interior Rush

Rampaging Mike Daniels has three sacks in the last two games, but he regrets not doing this earlier in the season. A look at his production shows just what he's added to a defensive line that hadn't adequately replaced Cullen Jenkins.

During the daily one-on-one pass-rushing drills at training camp, Mike Daniels consistently was the Green Bay Packers' best performer.

So, that Daniels had two sacks against Minnesota and one sack the week before against Cleveland shouldn't be a major surprise.

"What I'm doing now, I should have been doing in Week 1," Daniels said on Wednesday. "So, yes and no. It's coming later than I would have liked it to have. That's why we come into work every day, to make those improvements, stack the successes and get better."

The Packers have been searching for the next Cullen Jenkins since they decided to let Jenkins go following the Super Bowl season of 2010. They drafted Mike Neal in the second round in 2010, Jerel Worthy in the second round in 2012 and Datone Jones in the first round in 2013.

It's Daniels, a fourth-round pick in 2012, who is emerging as that interior rusher the Packers have lacked the past few seasons.

Through seven games, the 6-foot powerhouse leads the team with four sacks and is second with seven quarterback hits, according to the coaches' numbers. Extrapolate that over a full season, and Daniels would finish with nine sacks and 16 quarterback hits.

That's big-time production from a defensive lineman in Dom Capers' scheme.

In 2012, Neal led the defensive line with 4.5 sacks and 12 quarterback hits, and the unit as a whole tallied 11.5 sacks and 39 quarterback hits.

In 2011, B.J. Raji and Jarius Wynn led the defensive line with three sacks apiece, with Raji adding a unit-high 10 quarterback hits. The line combined for six sacks and 19 quarterback hits.

In 2010, Jenkins paced the defensive line with seven sacks and 21 quarterback hits. The unit combined for 18 sacks and 47 quarterback hits.

"I think it starts with his temperament," Capers said on Monday. "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. Sometimes you power him and move him back. Mike has a little bit of an advantage because he has a leverage advantage on most offensive linemen he's playing. And that helps."

What Daniels is accomplishing is all the more impressive in the context of what's expected from the defensive line. Far more often than not, they're used as setup guys to free up the outside linebackers or another blitzer. "Jet" rushes — when a defensive lineman is allowed to fly upfield — aren't called very often.

"I think Mike, he understands the role of our rush," Trgovac said recently. "We just don't have our ends up running up the field, like some teams, so the defensive tackles have all kinds of room to maneuver. He's learning how to maneuver in the box that we have. Our outside guys are very effective with what they do. It takes time to learn how to rush with the four guys, particularly when you have two inside guys and two outside guys. It takes time for them to gel together. I think that's where Mike, with the experience that he has, has really gotten better."

That he isn't a featured performer in Capers' scheme is of no matter for the relentless Daniels.

"It's football. We've been playing this game our whole lives," he said. "It doesn't matter the system, whatever. If you're a good player, you're going to make the plays. Look at Casey (Hayward) last year with all the interceptions he had. A lot of it was scheme but a lot of it was just him being a great football player. We're good players. We're going to be able to make the plays regardless."

Of 40 3-4 defensive ends playing at least 25 percent of the defensive snaps, Daniels ranks 11th in ProFootballFocus.com's pass-rushing productivity metric, with a total of 14 pressures out of 145 snaps.

Good isn't good enough. As much as the sacks, Daniels remembers the ones that got away.

"My motto is: I have to be absolutely perfect. Anything short of perfect is unacceptable," Daniels said. "I walk away from every game with that feeling. I'll wait ‘til after the season to reflect on the good things I did. 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.'"

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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