GREEN BAY – Mike Daniels knows the improvement he’s made this year from last, and he’s heard about it, too. But the Green Bay Packers’ second-year defensive end knows how much more he can accomplish, and that’s why he isn’t satisfied with what he’s done so far.
“My motto is: I have to be absolutely perfect,” Daniels said as the Packers prepared for Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lambeau Field. “Anything short of perfect is unacceptable. 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.’
“I’m really continuing to work on my game to make sure that I, not just become an ‘Oh, he made a play; that’s nice,’ to ‘Oh, he’s an elite player; watch out.’ I’m really just working towards trying to improve every week and every day.”
After falling to the fourth round (No. 132 pick overall) of the 2012 NFL Draft due to his 6-foot frame, as well as a January 2012 shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum, Daniels spent the offseason before his rookie year trying to rehab his shoulder and was unable to take part in all of the Packers’ offseason conditioning and practices.
Now, in his second season in the league, Daniels leads the Packers with four sacks, three of which have come in the past three games. Daniels said that he felt he was capable of this kind of production last year, had it not been for the setback with his shoulder.
“I feel as though this is something that was very feasible for me to do last year,” Daniels said. “But I didn’t have the offseason that I had. I spent my rookie offseason getting the scar tissue out of my shoulder, strengthening it up. I really couldn’t condition the way I wanted to, watch film the way I wanted to, work on my technique. I missed all of OTAs, all of minicamp, then I went down with an injury during camp that was a result of my shoulder.
“This time I had an opportunity to really be out there all the time. Even if I had the slightest nick or the slightest bruise, I said, ‘No, I’m going to practice anyway this camp. I don’t care how I feel.’ I realized how valuable those reps were during practice, and I really attribute everything to my offseason program, offseason training.”
Daniels’ new attitude has helped, and caught the attention of head coach Mike McCarthy.
“Mike Daniels is a heck of a football player,” McCarthy said after Daniels’ two-sack game in Minnesota. “He’s always had great energy and passion. But I do think you’re seeing the man take a step in his second year and I think that’s the progress you want to see in your players and he’s definitely taken that step. But the guy loves football, he loves the work, he’s a joy to coach and just get the hell out of his way. Those are the kind of guys you want to be around.”
Aside from the shoulder injury that Daniels suffered two weeks before the University of Iowa’s Insight Bowl game in 2012, Daniels was also seen as undersized. He said that his weight varied between 294 and 285 pounds last season, but now sits at 302 pounds. He said he is working on “toning it up and making (the weight) more solid,” but that he can already feel the difference that the extra weight has made. Daniels said that it is because of his smaller stature that he feels he works as hard as he does.
“I never could (take a play off),” Daniels said. “I’m the smallest guy on the defensive line; I’ll get killed if I did. I know I really have to work hard every snap, every play. And whenever I do make a play, I never do a nice spin move or ‘that was a cool jump over the head type thing.’ Clay (Matthews), he jumps over people. I don’t do anything wild like that. I just get to the bone, headbutt, try to get off the block and get to the quarterback.”
Part of the reason that Daniels’ improvement has been so important to the Packers is because how decimated the defense has been after losing linebacker Matthews (thumb) and linebacker Nick Perry (foot) for multiple weeks. But while Daniels feels that his success is because of an improved – and injury-free – offseason, defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said Daniels’ success also comes because he is a “diligent study guy,” when preparing for opponents.
That’s why, despite his success so far this season, Daniels has made sure hasn’t focused on the positives, but more on how he can turn any negatives – bad plays or missed sacks – into even more positives.
“What I’m doing now, I should have been doing in Week 1,” Daniels said. “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.”
Sarah Barshop covers the Packers for ESPNWisconsin.com. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/sarahbarshop.