GREEN BAY – The plate in the Packers’ main locker room bears his name and jersey number, but Robertson Daniel doesn’t consider it his.
Not yet, at least.
“Just because my locker is here doesn’t really mean anything,” said Daniel, a first-year cornerback during the team’s recent rookie orientation camp. “My mind is still back there.”
Back there is the Packers’ auxiliary locker room where all of the team’s undrafted rookies and returning practice-squad players reside. It’s where Daniel called home for most of last season before a January promotion to the active roster.
A safety-turned-cornerback at BYU, Daniel was the only player out of the 61 participating in the rookie camp who was on Green Bay’s active roster last season.
After spending the entire regular season on the practice squad, Daniel was moved up to the 53-man roster for the Packers’ divisional playoff game against Arizona with cornerbacks Sam Shields and Quinten Rollins listed as questionable.
Both cornerbacks played, so Daniel was one of the team’s seven inactive players. Was it gratifying to be on an active roster? Sure, but don’t expect any celebratory cartwheels from Daniel.
“I didn’t look (into) it too much because I got moved up and I didn’t play, and we lost that game,” Daniel said. “It was the last game of the season, so in my mind I didn’t really get moved up. I’m a practice-squad guy trying to make the team again this year. That’s really my mindset.”
Daniel signed onto Green Bay’s practice squad after he was released by Oakland near the end of training camp. He was one of five players to remain on the practice squad throughout the entire regular season.
The Packers expressed significant interest in Daniel leading up to the 2015 NFL Draft, bringing the 6-foot-1, 205-pound defensive back in for a pre-draft visit.
Afterward, Daniel chose to sign with the Raiders because he wanted to stay close to his little brother, Delbertson, who’s a receiver at San Jose (Calif.) Community College.
When things didn’t work out in Oakland, Daniel and his agent agreed it was in his best interest to join the Packers. For him, it was an “easy decision” based on the team’s track record with undrafted cornerbacks.
Daniel mostly played off-coverage at BYU, but understood his size and strength might lend itself to press-man coverage in the NFL. He spent last season working extensively with cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt on harnessing that ability.
“Coming here and learning press from Joe … him trying to get you to perfect your technique and do it a certain way, understanding who you are as a corner – I love it,” Daniel said.
“He’s really developing me to be a good player. Still till this day, I’m just trying to find myself as a corner and what I do well, what my weaknesses are.”
One of Whitt’s creeds is that he trains all of his cornerbacks the same whether a Pro Bowler like Sam Shields or a practice-squad prospect, because you never know when you’ll need them.
The Packers’ success in developing undrafted free agents is personified at the cornerback position with the likes of Shields, Tramon Williams, Jarrett Bush and LaDarius Gunter, who made the team last year as an undrafted rookie out of Miami.
To Daniel, all of those players are further proof of what can be achieved if you listen to Whitt’s words and fully commit to the process.
“Guys like that – they just show you that it is possible,” Daniel said. “Just because you’re an undrafted guy doesn’t mean you can’t come in and be a Sam Shields (or) you can’t come in and shock everybody like Gunter and make the team. For all the undrafted guys, including myself, it is possible. You just have to come in and work.”
Daniel split the offseason between California with his brother and working out at BYU. Now back in Green Bay, he knows he has a long way to go regardless of where his locker is located.
While Daniel might not be as wide-eyed as the incoming rookies, he treated the rookie camp as another opportunity to grasp the playbook heading into next week’s organized team activities.
“I had to shake the rust off, I had these two days to fix that,” Daniel said. “I have a mindset going into OTAs of what I need to work on before OTAs, so I can be on my game.”