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Packers: Making the jump

By By Jason Wilde
Published On: May 28 2014 11:23:31 PM CDT
Green Bay Packers

The reminder was a friendly one, but it was not sent in jest.

T.J. Lang has battled Mike Daniels in practice each of the past two years – both in pads and out – and knows that the now third-year defensive lineman has just one speed: Overdrive.

So Lang, the veteran right guard and avid Twitter user, took the opportunity Wednesday morning to use social media to tell Daniels to, well, take it easy during the team’s first organized team activity practice of the offseason.

Whether Daniels heeded Lang’s advice is unclear, as Wednesday’s practice wasn’t open to the media or the public. (Reporters and fans can watch Thursday’s practice at Ray Nitschke Field, weather permitting.) But this much is not: Starting with OTAs, the Packers will be looking for more players who make a Daniels-esque jump from 2013 to 2014.

For last season was only a few weeks old, but it was already evident to coach Mike McCarthy that Daniels was delivering a Year 1 to Year 2 elevation.

“Mike is an excellent example of a young man, Year 1 to Year 2, making a big jump,” McCarthy said in mid-October. “Mike Daniels is a heck of a football player. He’s always had great energy and passion. I go back to the draft process and watching the tape with him at Iowa. 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.

“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.”

As a rookie fourth-round pick from Iowa, Daniels played 280 snaps in 16 total games 2012 (14 regular season, two playoffs), registering 19 tackles and two sacks. His biggest play was a late-season 43-yard fumble return for a touchdown against Detroit.

A year later, Daniels saw action in all 17 games, playing 553 snaps – mostly in sub packages as an interior pass rusher – and registering 37 tackles and 6.5 sacks in regular-season play, most among Packers defensive linemen and second only to Clay Matthews’ 7.5. He added another sack in the playoff loss to San Francisco.

It was no coincidence that, according to coaches, Daniels spent nearly the entire offseason in Green Bay last year, didn’t miss a day of the offseason program and started to make his jump at OTAs, long before the pads went on in training camp.

“Mike’s got a tremendous work ethic,” defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said. “This defense is different. There’s a lot of little things that go into rushing the quarterback here that’s different from most places. There’s a lot to learn and just the experience he has and the time – he’s a diligent study guy. He really studies his opponent, so that really helps him out.”

Daniels’ personality also grew in his second season. A colorful, boisterous type, Daniels kept quiet as a rookie and deferred to his veteran teammates. Last year, he was more outspoken.

“I think when you’re a rookie and you come in here, you’re kind of waiting. You might be afraid to say something,” Trgovac said. “Well, he’s been around awhile now and he’s not afraid to speak his mind. That’s an excellent thing to have.”

A year later, the Packers will be looking for Daniels to take another step in Year 3. But among the second-year players they’re hoping step up after their rookie seasons are defensive end and 2013 first-round pick Datone Jones; defensive end Josh Boyd, a fifth-round pick whose playing time increased late in the year; and JC Tretter, who’ll compete for the starting center job after missing all of last season with a broken ankle suffered in the first OTA practice last spring.

“When you know what you’re doing, it makes things a heck of a lot easier,” Daniels said when asked about his improvement in his second season. “And there’s a reason you have to respect veteran players. They’ve been there, they’ve done that, they know how to play this game. I could be just as fast as I was [as a rookie], but I’ll be playing faster because I know things where I can tell where I might get a draw play, a run, a play-action pass.

“I feel comfortable, and I just want to continue to improve whenever I’m on the field. It doesn’t matter – I’ll stand up, I’ll kick it, I’ll throw it, whatever they ask me to do, I’ll do it with everything I have.”

Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today,” and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.

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