Not a moment too soon for Mike Daniels, who has made it his personal mission to instill toughness and fire into the Green Bay Packers.
“I’ve liked to hit ever sense I was a little kid and that’s real football, it’s part of the game,” Daniels said following Sunday’s training camp practice. “Plus, we get to really see what everybody’s made of. Like Mike Tyson said, everyone’s got a plan until they get punched in the mouth. So, I’m going to do a lot of mouth-punching tomorrow and see how people respond.”
Daniels is talking the talk after walking the walk in 2013. He was the team’s most improved player last season, his second year in the league, with 6.5 sacks and ProFootballFocus.com’s sixth-best grade among 3-4 defensive ends.
That Daniels has emerged as an impact player is important. Perhaps more importantly, Daniels is making an impact in the locker room.
“Mike has definitely separated himself as one of the leaders, if not the leader, of that defense,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “His play speaks for itself. He’s a talented player. He’s a tough guy. I wouldn’t want to mess with him, or get on his bad side. Mike, I think it’s starting to click for him. He really has the opportunity to have a voice on that defense and be heard. He has the respect of those guys. He’s got the respect of the offense players and this is a big year for him. I think the sky’s the limit for him as a player but maybe, more importantly, as a leader. If he grabs a hold of that, he can really get those guys doing what they want on a team where there’s a lot of veteran guys over there. Mike has a tremendous opportunity to be the leader of that defense.”
Leadership comes easily to Daniels, who was one of Iowa’s permanent captains as a senior. He’s not just a great talker and a go-to guy for reporters. He’s intelligent and articulate and thoughtful. So, it was only natural for Daniels to assume a leadership position when the Packers didn’t re-sign Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly.
“That’s just my personality,” he said. “Being a rookie, being a second-year guy, you don’t really want to say too much. Who am I as a rookie, who’s been here about 10 minutes, who am I to say something to an All-Pro like B.J. (Raji) or somebody like that? As you get older, you feel more comfortable, you earn more respect. Like I like to say, young guys have to earn the right to talk.”
Daniels has earned that right. So, when he says he’s ready to do some “mouth-punching” with the start of padded practices, that’s not Daniels trying to make headlines with a great one-liner. That’s Daniels ready to use his full-throttle approach to raise the level of everyone around him, even if he’s bound to get under the skin of the guys trying to block him.
“Right now, I see the Vikings, the Bears and the Lions across from me. I don’t see my teammates,” Daniels said. “That’s the mentality you’ve got to have, and I expect them to have the same mentality. I don’t know if you have any siblings. Growing up, my brother and I, we got into some arguments and sometimes they turned physical. But God forbid anybody try to come up against my brother that isn’t my brother. So, I guess what I’m saying, with football, you’re going to fight against your brother. I think that builds a stronger bond. That way, when some outsider comes in, we all gang up on them.”
Everyone will benefit from Daniels’ approach. Whether it’s guilt or inspiration, he’ll crank up the motors of those around him on defense, and he’ll raise the level of the play of the guys trying to block him. A face full of Daniels, for instance, ought to accelerate the learning curve of the Packers’ young centers.
“That’s why I say we have to get after it,” Daniels said. “I’m not doing everything I can to make them go to bed at night and say, ‘God, I’ve got to go up against him again tomorrow. It’s going to suck. I need to do something so it doesn’t suck.’ If I’m not bringing that kind of intensity to my teammate across the line, I’m doing him a disservice because I’m not making him any better. Because I’m sure the Seattle guys, they’re going to bring it with a lot more anger and ferocity to my teammates than I can. I’d rather me to be the one to punch him and he learn how to respond to me, rather than he gets punched for the first time against someone that wants to punch him and hurt him.”
Daniels not only is looking forward to beating up on the guys across from him, but he’s looking forward to getting “the crap knocked out of me at some point — maybe at several points.” It’s about getting knocked down, getting up and trying again. Daniels spoke of an “attitude shift,” with players feeling excitement rather than dread for a couple grueling weeks of padded practices.
“Attitude. Flat out attitude. Everybody,” Daniels said. “My goodness. I feel like a little kid again because everybody is excited to put the pads on. Everybody. You figure you get to the NFL, a lot of guys make a lot of money, got a long season, all right, it’s just camp. It’s not that mentality anymore. Yo, we’re going to get after them tomorrow.
“We’re going to make them fall to us and bow to us during practice every day. And likewise, they need to be feeling the same way because they have pride and, if we come out swinging, they’re going to swing back, and then we’re fighting each other. Then when we see somebody we don’t like, an opponent, yeah, it’s us versus them. Then there’s going to be a big problem. Super Bowl year, they had a big brawl during camp. I think Coach (Mike) McCarthy almost got punched by one of the players. But they won a Super Bowl. The Seahawks, what, two years ago their OTAs got shut down because they were going too hard in practice. I don’t think anybody said they were going too hard during the Super Bowl last year, do you think? So, it starts here.”
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.