Green Bay Packers defensive end Jerel Worthy runs drills during training camp practice at Ray Nitschke Field on Monday, July 30, 2012. / Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette
Nick Perry will start at left outside linebacker, and Jerel Worthy — if he doesn’t start at right end in the base defense — almost certainly will be one of the two primary defensive tackles in the Green Bay Packers’ nickel and dime packages.
That was to be expected after General Manager Ted Thompson picked them in the first and second rounds, respectively, of the draft in April.
Three months later, another rookie has emerged as a contender for some serious playing time up front.
Unheralded fourth-round pick Mike Daniels, a 6-foot and 294-pound ball of fire from Iowa, has worked his way into the mix. On Monday, the energetic Daniels jumped into the No. 1 dime, a package that defensive coordinator Dom Capers is planning to use more this season.
It’s been a rapid ascent for a guy who missed the rookie orientation camp, all of the organized team activities and the mandatory minicamp while recovering from surgery in January to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder.
“I was telling everybody that when we drafted him, and you know he had to sit out of the OTAs and minicamps because of the shoulder deal, I was telling everybody, ‘Just wait, just wait,’” said Packers right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who played with Daniels at Iowa. “And he’s come out, and he’s been real impressive. It doesn’t shock me at all that he’s doing well.”
Like Worthy, Daniels has brought a dose of energy to practice. Though he’s soft-spoken off the field, he has played with an exuberance not seen among Packers’ defenders of late.
“He’s got lots of energy, and I mean lots of energy,” Bulaga said. “But he’s also strong, quick and has good hands.”
Though he’s undersized, Daniels’ background as a wrestler — he competed at 215 pounds in high school — taught him leverage and angles.
“That’s what makes him who he is because he can get under pads and shed blocks because he plays so low and with great hands,” Bulaga said.
Daniels has shown that during the one-on-one pass rushing/pass blocking drills during the two padded practices Saturday and Monday. In the first session, he overpowered 6-5 and 313-pound rookie tackle Mike McCabe — a play on which McCabe was injured — and in the most recent one he walked back 6-4, 305-pound rookie Don Barclay with ease. Both of those came at the expense of undrafted players that are long shots to make the team, but Daniels also has had solid showings against starting right guard Josh Sitton and backup Ray Dominguez.
“He’s a very explosive and strong kid,” said left guard T.J. Lang, who has engaged with Daniels during some of the team (11-on-11) periods. “I think he’s done a great job so far in the first couple of days, and he’s going to be a guy that looks like is going to make an impact and help us.”
With Daniels and Worthy taking the first reps in the dime package Monday, it was another indication the Packers hope to reduce B.J. Raji’s snaps. Last season, he played 937 snaps, nearly twice as many as the next highest Packers defensive lineman (Ryan Pickett with 507), according to ProFootballFocus.com.
“I think the more flexibility that you have (the better),” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said recently. “There were times last year that we didn’t have the same kind of flexibility that I think we potentially have for this year.”
Though undersized and only a part-time starter until his final season at Iowa, Daniels has a rare combination of power and quickness the Packers think can make him effective, especially in their sub packages. He has taken only a handful of base snaps so far.
“A lot of guys you go against, they’re either really strong or really fast,” Lang said. “Not many are both. But he looks like a guy that can be very athletic and is also strong. He’s got a little bit of both.”
The Packers haven’t drafted many defensive linemen as short as Daniels. Before picking Daniels, who measured 6-0½ at the combine (he didn’t work out there because of his shoulder), the last defensive lineman shorter than 6-1 they drafted was Steve Warren (6-0 5/8>), an interior lineman from Nebraska, in the third round in 2000. Warren weighed 300 pounds. He played in only 25 career games between 2000 and 2002 but injuries — not his height — were his downfall.
“Ryan Pickett told me over the summer, ‘You’re going to out there and you’re going to start playing and soon you’ll realize that you belong out there and that you can play with those guys; you’ll get past that self doubt,’” Daniels said after Monday’s practice. “I think I’m at that point where I can feel that.”
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