GREEN BAY – Mike Daniels finds himself in somewhat unfamiliar territory entering his fifth NFL season.
An overlooked two-star recruit coming out of high school, the Packers’ high-energy defensive lineman is getting used to being in the spotlight these days.
The conversation no longer revolves around his size or humble credentials, but rather the 125 tackles and 18 sacks he’s registered in his first 62 regular-season games.
Four years of constant improvement earned Daniels a contract extension with the Packers in December and a place on NFL Network’s “Top 100 players” list for the first time in his career earlier this offseason.
Shedding any preconceived labels, the 6-foot, 310-pound defensive lineman has developed into one of the league’s up-and-coming interior rushers and the respect that comes with it.
Just don’t expect it to change him.
“It was cool. Starting to get a little bit more recognition,” Daniels said. “I just have to keep improving on myself, improving on my craft. Everything else is a product of that. It’s not the goal. Those are the products. The goal is to be the best.”
Based on the success he’s enjoyed, Daniels changed little about his offseason regimen. He again trained locally in Green Bay, focusing on improving his hands and overall technique.
Since the start of April’s offseason program, Daniels has seen growth and maturity from a young defense that’s developed more attitude in recent years.
A vocal part of that leadership, Daniels knows there’s a fine line between talking and performing. The notion of getting “meaner” on defense isn’t just a nifty motto, but something he believes strongly in.
It’s not just about playing physical or nasty, either. It’s about having the confidence and comfort in your assignment to think at another level.
He points to safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix as a perfect example of that mentality. There’s still more room for growth, but the overall defense is on the right track in Daniels’ mind.
“I think we can still get a little nastier,” Daniels said. “It’s been building up. It’s been growing every year. I think this is the year you could see it, the intensity out of the guys. Everybody’s looking forward to getting the pads back on as opposed to a handful of guys. That’s definitely a plus. I think the culture is great for the young guys who come in.”
With more experience in Dom Capers’ scheme than any other Packers’ lineman, Daniels understands his place in the defense and the responsibility he has to the younger players in the room, especially with B.J. Raji taking a hiatus.
He, Letroy Guion, Mike Pennel and elephant rusher Datone Jones are the four returning veterans on the defensive line, but there’s also several rookies and first-year players hungry for a chance to show what they can add to the rotation.
Daniels wasn’t able to connect with draft picks Kenny Clark (UCLA, first round) and Dean Lowry (Northwestern, fourth) before they reported back to school after rookie camp, but he sees plenty to like in both rookies.
He’s even planning to give a little friendly advice to Lowry, a fellow Big Ten lineman who was taken in the same round Daniels was drafted in 2012.
“I think Dean gets overlooked quite a bit. Most of us mid-rounders do,” Daniels said. “I’m going to keep letting him know that. ‘Nobody’s talking about you, so it should make you really upset.’ I’m looking forward to getting those guys back out here. I like the young guys we have out here working now.”
While Daniels always will carry a chip on his shoulder, he’s getting used to the respect that comes with a promising start to his NFL career.
For his efforts, he’ll be honored later this summer as the team MVP by the Packers Hall of Fame. It’s a humbling honor for Daniels considering the “yellow jackets” around him, a nod to Aaron Rodgers and Julius Peppers as future Pro Football Hall of Famers.
Asked if the Pro Bowl is his next goal, Daniels says that’s simply out of his control. He’s concentrated on his on-field performance and getting the defense closer to its final goal.
Whatever else happens, happens. He’ll deal with it the same way regardless.
“I’m used to not having anything and then finally something big happening,” Daniels said. “I’m used to being in that position, so when I do get a new contract, Top 100, things of that nature – it’s just like, ‘OK, cool. Just have to keep working.’ That’s just the mentality.”
Related - Spofford: Rodgers is 'all-in' for 2016
Related - Spofford: Peppers keeps climbing the charts