Green Bay Packers fans have been screaming for what seems like forever about how the team needs a new attitude on defense. They’re understandably frustrated with seeing Green Bay’s defense get shredded year after year.
Some have called (loudly) for the firing of defensive coordinator Dom Capers but head coach Mike McCarthy apparently saw things differently and Capers is back again for 2014. Don’t let the return of the coordinator fool you, however. This is not the Packers defense fans have come to know and love/loathe from the past three seasons.
With the addition of Julius Peppers and first round pick HaHa Clinton-Dix, the defense seems prime for a rebound and if training camp and half the preseason are any indication, there is reason for optimism about the Packers defense in 2014.
Does it help that Clay Matthews will be healthy again? Of course. It’s never a bad thing when a player of his caliber is at full strength after two consecutive seasons battling various injuries including a hamstring and a (twice) broken thumb.
Another big reason to be excited about the Green Bay defense in 2014, even more than the return to health of Matthews, is defensive end Mike Daniels. Last year while Matthews was either out or limited with the thumb injury, Daniels broke out and showed signs of becoming the second fearsome pass rusher the Packers have been so desperately seeking. Daniels tallied 6.5 sacks and had 23 combined tackles while playing in all 16 games.
Take what he’s shown so far this preseason and one thing is becoming clear: it could be Daniels, not Matthews, that emerges as the leader of the 2014 Green Bay defense.
This is by no means any kind of a slight against the Claymaker, who has earned all the accolades he has received so far in his career. Matthews is a terrific pass rusher, but at times seems to lack that killer “I’m coming at you and I want to rip your head off”-type instinct that so many all-time great linebackers have. Take Dick Butkus or Ray Lewis, for example.
That is where Daniels comes into play. His repeated statements about being sick of seeing the defense pushed around and his willingness to “slap someone” are injections of fire and attitude the defense badly needs. The Packers have been accused in recent years of being “soft” and while things on the offense have improved with the arrival of running back Eddie Lacy, the criticism is definitely still valid.
Not if Daniels has his way. His combination of speed, power and hunger have him on the verge of becoming one of the NFL’s best defensive ends. If you combine his emergence and assume Julius Peppers still has something left in the tank plus a healthy Matthews, then suddenly the Packers have quite a ferocious pass rush. That in turn would take some pressure off the secondary where they have one rookie safety and another who is converting from playing cornerback last season (Micah Hyde).
Daniels may not run up a terribly high sack total thanks to linebackers being primary blitzers in a base 3-4, but his presence is going to be felt. If he opens up gaps for Peppers, Matthews and the rest of the linebackers, that’s fantastic. If Daniels can consistently get into the backfield however, then the Packers have one more weapon on their hands and all signs right now point to this being the case.
With the preseason only half complete, so many people are still solely focused on what Peppers will bring to the Green Bay defense or when it will “click” for Datone Jones. Even after the game he played in St. Louis where he was as disruptive as ever, not many national writers and analysts are focusing on Daniels.
By the end of the 2014 season, they will be. The Packers have a budding star on the defensive line and he’s flying under the radar.
Just how Mike Daniels wants it.
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Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke