Relentless Daniels emerges as sack leader

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- For nine minutes Wednesday, Mike Daniels stood at his locker at Lambeau Field and talked ... and talked and talked and talked.

When it was over, he had spoken 1,317 words -- or an average of 146.3 words per minute. It might as well have been a mile a minute.

And then he needed a shower. Sweat poured off his head and soaked through his shirt.

The Green Bay Packers defensive end apparently knows only one speed -- on or off the football field.

"You've talked to him," Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk said. "He's crazy."

The Packers might describe him as crazy good right now.

In the last two games, the second-year defensive tackle has three sacks and four more quarterback hits.

He has quickly become the inside pass rusher the Packers went looking for in the draft -- this year's draft, when they used their first-round pick on defensive end Datone Jones. While Jones has struggled to make an impact -- he has no sacks and just four quarterback hits -- in his limited role this season, Daniels has emerged as one of the Packers' most important defensive players.

The fourth-round pick from Iowa in 2012 leads the Packers with four sacks and ranks second on the team with seven quarterback hits, according to team statistics. Over the last three games, he has played more snaps (98) than anyone else on the Packers' defensive line, including the usual workhorse B.J. Raji (96 snaps).

"I feel as though this is something that was very feasible for me to do last year," Daniels said.

But he had little impact as a rookie. He missed most of the offseason his first year recovering from shoulder surgery and never regained the strength he had hoped. At times last season he weighed as little as 285 pounds. In 14 games, he recorded 19 tackles and two sacks. So this offseason, he dedicated himself to getting bigger and stronger.

On Wednesday, he said he weighed in at 302, although he might have sweated off a pound or two while he was talking.

"I think it starts with his temperament," Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "He's a guy who's going to go 100 miles an hour every play. He's got a really good combination of strength and punch and quickness to get off a block and go close the gap. That's what you have to do. You've got to be able to make your move on a guy. Sometimes you power him and move him back. Mike has a little bit of an advantage because he has a leverage advantage on most offensive linemen he's playing."

That's a nice way of saying he's short.

At 6-feet even, Daniels is the shortest defensive lineman on the roster by two inches. That's part of the reason he plays relentlessly and knows he can't take snaps off.

"I never could," Daniels said. "I'm the smallest guy on the defensive line. I'll get killed if I did."

Capers doesn't ask his defensive linemen to be sack machines. Last season, the Packers' top-five sack leaders were all linebackers. In 2011, three of the top four were linebackers.

But in the absence of outside linebackers Clay Matthews, who has not played since he broke his right thumb on Oct. 6 against the Detroit Lions; and Nick Perry, who has not played since he sustained a foot injury on Oct. 13 against the Baltimore Ravens; the Packers needed pass rush from somewhere else.

"I would say he's probably one of our most productive interior rushers right now," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "Mike's an excellent example of a young man, year one to year two, making a big jump."

But if you ask Daniels, it's not enough even though he's coming off the first two-sack game of his career in Sunday's win over the Minnesota Vikings.

"I got two; that's cute," Daniels said. "But I really think I left about three out there. I'm really continuing to work on my game to make sure that I [don't] 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."