"It hasn't been like this since I've been there," the standout defensive tackle told me of the Packers defense's domination of OTAs. "Not this blatant, where it's like ... Oooh, you guys are putting it on them!"
Daniels readily admits the team's defense has underachieved in recent years, with above-average talent and below-average results. The departure of defensive coordinator Dom Capers was overdue. (Those are my words and also the words of Packers fans, but not Daniels'.) Capers' byzantine system asked for every player to achieve his specific role just so, which often seemed to be asking too much of its younger players, not allowing everyone to play fast.
"I'd read a lot of negative things about guys in the paper and think ... The guy you are describing is not the guy I know. But there were circumstances out of his control that are contributing to that," Daniels said of Capers. "It was like, we had to be perfect or we'd pay for it, unfortunately. When we were perfect, you couldn't mess with us. But in the game of football, you can't expect a group of 11 men to be perfect every single time."
There is danger here of the Trope Alert sounding. Capers became an unpopular figure, his ample, fuzzy hair standing in contrast to new coordinator Mike Pettine's sleek, bare approach. Pettine has promised his players to K.I.L.L. (keep it likable and learnable) with a system Daniels calls very complex, but very simple at the same time. Any new coordinator figured to be popular in Green Bay, but few have the track record that Pettine boasts as a coordinator with the Jets and Bills. He's a master at maximizing secondary play and creating mismatches. More importantly, few defenses boast more firepower at every level than the Packers.
It starts on the defensive line, where it's hard to argue when Daniels calls himself the most complete lineman in football because of his ability to maintain his gap, leverage and hand placement. He felt like the old system "took away" from many of his strengths, which makes his disruption more impressive. Third-year pro Kenny Clark has the potential to be the best nose tackle in football, while free-agent pickup Muhammad Wilkerson sounds freshly motivated, telling Daniels this has been the best offseason of his career.
The team has a quality edge-rushing pair in Clay Matthews and Nick Perry, a budding star in inside linebacker Blake Martinez and a raft of first- and second-round picks in the secondary for Pettine to mold, along with 2016 Pro Bowl safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. The youth in the secondary is a potential weakness, but there aren't many defenses in football as well constructed as Green Bay's. And there is belief Pettine will help unlock all the potential.
"What's different now is I can go play. I feel free," Daniels said. "I think the scheme is going to free up the whole defense, period. It's going to let everyone show what they are really made of."
The last time the Packers had a top-10 scoring defense was their championship season of 2010, Capers' second year at the helm. The pieces are in place for it to happen again on another Super Bowl run. A stout Green Bay D would support Rodgers' greatness more than anything a No. 3 receiver could provide. Even if it means more rough moments for the Packers' offense in practice.
"It's going to be even worse when the pads come on," Daniels said with a glee rare among veterans when talking about training camp. "That's what I'm looking forward to."
Most Likely Holdouts
Now that minicamps are over, NFL teams will take a well-deserved nap until Independence Day. The calls from front offices to agents should start shortly after that. Below, I've listed nine potential training camp holdouts, ranked in descending order of the players most likely to miss the most of amount of time:
9) Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots: Gronk is back to having fun again, trash talking while he scores touchdowns and placing on-brand horse wagers. All those good vibes point to a training camp holdout being a long shot, but it can't be ruled out, with some type of contract upgrade expected before the season.
8) Odell Beckham Jr., WR, New York Giants: Beckham attended nearly all of the team's offseason activities, including both minicamps. His relationship with coach Pat Shurmur is off to an encouraging start, although it's worth noting Beckham didn't participate in minicamp team drills, as he aims for a new contract. Beckham told Ralph Vacchiano of SNY on Saturday that he wasn't going to hold out, but a source also told SNY that stance could change if negotiations don't advance. This appears to be in the Giants' court now. If they choose not to get serious about a deal before camp, there is still a chance for a messy August.
6) David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals: Johnson attended some OTAs this offseason, but stayed on the sidelines -- and then he skipped mandatory minicamp altogether. With the dynamic running back scheduled to make $1.9 million, NFL Network's Mike Garafolo said recently he "doesn't see any way" Johnson plays for that number. It sounds like a new contract is a matter of when, not if.
5) Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons: His absence from minicamp was a warning shot. Despite his current contract running through 2020, Jones' representatives are serious about getting an upgrade now. The complications of constructing a satisfactory contract with so much time left on the deal raises the degree of difficulty.
4) Earl Thomas, S, Seattle Seahawks: Thomas wrote on Instagram that he's not showing up to work without a new contract. The Seahawks are in rebuilding mode overall -- and wait-and-see mode with Thomas, who has struggled more with injuries the last two seasons. The 29-year-old safety is easily the most likely player on this list to get traded before the season.
3) Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles Rams: This is the portion of the rankings where I fully expect a holdout. Donald and Khalil Mack both have a strong chance to pass Von Miller as the highest-paid defensive player in football. Donald's holdout during camp last year and near-constant negotiations with the Rams since then offer hope that any standoff could be shorter this time around.
2) Khalil Mack, DE, Oakland Raiders: Mack's contract has potential to take awhile. He's not quiteVon Miller or Aaron Donald, but he's undeniably one of the best young defenders in football. Mack is set to earn $13.86 million on his fifth-year option, so it's unlikely he'll skip any regular-season work. That should prevent Jon Gruden's head from exploding before September.
1) Le'Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers: All of the reasons that prevented a long-term deal between Bell and the Steelers for the last two years remain: He rightly wants to reset the running back market because of his incredible value, while Pittsburgh's front office seemingly remains cautious about Bell's long-term staying power. The biggest differences this time around: Bell is a year older and more entrenched in his position than ever. The deadline for a new contract among players hit with the franchise tag is July 16, so we'll know the outcome here sooner than later. Bell showed up to work September 1 last year and might come in later this time around if a deal is not struck by mid-July.
While I don't put too much stock into position-battle reports at this time of year, the 28 mandatory minicamps completed last week did provide a few key clues to the months ahead. Here's what I learned from the final week of the offseason program:
-- Andrew Luck is ahead of schedule, at least compared to last season. The tangible proof of his progress and his profound confidence in his own status makes me believe he's on track for Week 1.
-- The Jets' depth chart at quarterback is officially Josh McCown, Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Darnold, in that order. But that is clearly written in light pencil. With the team already admitting Darnold has a "real chance" to start in Week 1 after flashing in OTAs, the QB1 spot will probably come down to the preseason performance. It already feels like it's the rookie's job to lose despite the current depth chart.
-- Nathan Peterman has a bigger chance than people think to start at quarterback in Week 1 for the Bills. He's split first-team reps with AJ McCarron throughout the offseason and has a familiarity with the coaching staff. McCarron should be the favorite, with Josh Allen likely to start his rookie season on the bench, but it's not as if Peterman has to topple Joe Montana. McCarron has four career starts.