Micah Hyde smiles the moment Mike Daniels’ name is brought up in the conversation.
“He’ll be in here in a couple minutes,” the rookie cornerback says, motioning to the opposite end of the Green Bay Packers’ locker room. “I guarantee you he’s the loudest person in here.”
Hyde exposes a quick smile. He knows Daniels well. Before both players landed with the Packers, the second-year defensive lineman actually housed Hyde when he first stepped onto the University of Iowa campus during his freshman year.
Fifty one collegiate contests later, Hyde was reunited with his old Hawkeyes’ teammate and defensive captain as a fifth-round pick by the Packers in April’s NFL draft.
Once he arrived in Green Bay, it took seconds to learn nothing had changed. Daniels’ infectious enthusiasm was still intact; the prominent chip on his shoulder still in place.
Listed at 6-foot, 300 pounds, Daniels falls on the small side of NFL defensive linemen. He doesn’t fit the prototype of the 6-foot-5, 330-pound behemoth that makes general managers salivate.
Just don’t tell him that.
“If you were to tell Mike he’s not 6-4, I don’t even think he’d know that,” Hyde said. “He’s a go-getter. That’s the type of person he is.”
The Packers have searched long and hard for pass-rushing help in recent years. In the last four drafts, they’ve used a first-round pick and two second-round selections on the defensive line, but appear to have found what they’re looking for in the undersized, but unrelenting Daniels.
In seven games this season, Daniels has 11 tackles and four sacks. It’s the fastest start a Packers’ defensive lineman has been off to since Cullen Jenkins had sacks in four consecutive games to start the 2010 season.
Daniels’ services cost the Packers a fourth-round pick a year ago. Coming out of Iowa, pro scouts labeled Daniels as “undersized,” and being susceptible to getting “engulfed by bigger blockers and double teams.”
Shoulder surgery limited his availability during the offseason program, but he still played in 14 regular-season games with 12 tackles and two sacks as a rotational rusher.
He was a healthy participant in this year’s offseason program and added clean weight to his frame. In training camp, he had the look of a guy ready for a breakthrough.
The size issue? He’s made it a strength.
“Everybody has their advantages and disadvantages,” Packers defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said. “Mike’s a shorter guy, so he has natural leverage. He’s very strong. He has some wrestling background, so that helps him. Obviously, he’s not going to have the longest arms in the world because he’s not 6-4. He just has to work keep guys so they can’t engulf him and hug him and get their arms around them and that stuff.”
Being an undersized defensive lineman in the NFL doesn’t mean you can’t be successful. Cincinnati’s Geno Atkins (6-1, 303) had 12˝ sacks in 2012 en route to signing a five-year, $55 million extension. He had six sacks in nine games this year before suffering a season-ending ACL injury.
The key is leverage. If you’re not huge, you have to be quick, strong and able to generate push against bigger offensive linemen.
It’s a battle Daniels faced with the Hawkeyes, too, before leading Iowa with 24˝ tackles for loss and 13 sacks over his final two collegiate seasons.
“He faced the same thing at Iowa,” Hyde said. “He was smaller at Iowa and the coaches kind of doubted him when he first started and after he awhile he showed them what he had. Next thing you know, Mike’s on the field throwing 320-pound offensive linemen around and pushing the quarterback. That’s just what Mike does. It’s nothing new to me.”
The demeanor doesn’t deviate, either. Daniels is out to earn respect. He had two sacks in last Sunday’s 44-31 win over Minnesota, but three would’ve been better in his mind.
The Packers possess one of the league’s best run defenses with three 330-pound giants in B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly, but Daniels is quickly making a name for himself as an inside rusher in the nickel and dime sub-packages.
“He’s always into lifting and muscling people,” Hyde said. “That’s just Mike Daniels – just eating meat and wearing boots in the summertime. That’s Mike Daniels. That’s how he is.”
Rookie receiver Myles White stood in awe like everyone else as Jordy Nelson shredded the Vikings’ secondary a week ago.
By the time it was over, the 28-year-old receiver had caught seven of the eight targeted passes thrown his way for 123 yards and two touchdowns, including a 76-yard score. His first five catches helped convert either third- or fourth-down plays.
Nelson represented the last remaining proven option on the perimeter with Jermichael Finley (neck), Randall Cobb (leg) and James Jones (knee) all out with injury, but still couldn’t be stopped, particularly when lining up in the slot.
According to Pro Football Focus, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has completed 39 catches for 649 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception for a 148.2 quarterback rating when throwing to Nelson this season, which leads the NFL.
Nelson’s production comes at a bargain considering he’s making slightly more than $3 million in the third season of the modest four-year, $14 million extension he signed at the start of the 2011 season.
It goes further than that for White, who’s two games into his NFL career after starting the season on the practice squad before the wave of injuries hit.
“It’s so crazy because I think he’s the most underrated player in the NFL and he’s pretty highly touted already,” White said. “People just don’t understand how he’s not just this big possession receiver. He’s fast. He can stretch the field. If he needs to pull off, as he showed, he can pull off of it. He’s just a great talent and an all-around receiver.”
The Packers have relied on Nelson, White and second-year pro Jarrett Boykin in the absence of the other three options, but ESPN reported on Sunday that Jones is expected to play in today’s game against Chicago.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise if James Starks sees his workload increased today against the Bears after rushing for 57 yards and a touchdown on seven carries against the Vikings a week ago.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said earlier this week that he wanted to get Starks more than the 11 snaps he received against Minnesota and statistics would indicate he’s certainly worthy.
Despite missing a month with a partially torn MCL, the 27-year-old running back has 41 carries for 244 yards (6.0 yards per carry) with two touchdowns. He needs only 12 more rushing yards to surpass his 2012 output on 71 rushes.
“I think James, he’s had his best year,” left guard Josh Sitton said. “It doesn’t look like it because he doesn’t have a whole lot of yards, but his yards per carry is something I look at and he’s been kicking ass out there. I think coming into training camp, it was his best training camp, too. The competition really raved him up I think. When he’s healthy, that’s a hell of a one-two punch.”
The switch might appear seamless, but a lot of work went into T.J. Lang and Sitton swapping guard positions this offseason.
Although the Packers are third in rushing offense (141.8 yards per game) and have reduced their sacks allowed from 3.2 to 2.4 per game through seven contests, there was plenty of second-guessing at first.
“Absolutely. All the way through training camp,” said Sitton, who flipped from right to left guard this season. “Still when I make a bad play, I’m like well, I should be a right guard. I’m just kidding. There was definitely a lot of resistance – not resistance but T.J. and I would talk to each other like, ‘I can’t do this man. This sucks.’
“I would tell Coach Campen, ‘I feel terrible over here,’ but as time has gone on, it’s worked and I think we’re getting to feel really comfortable on our different sides. There’s still times when I feel like a right guard over there, but that’s always going to happen.”
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