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Daniels' Sole Focus on Football ..
By Nick Wagoner
While his fellow rookies remained in St. Louis on Sunday afternoon getting their first taste of Cardinals baseball, safety Matt Daniels found himself walking across the stage to receive a diploma from one of the country’s most prestigious universities.
This was no underwater basket-weaving degree, either, as Daniels graduated with a degree in public policy from Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy.
At the conclusion of the Rams’ rookie minicamp on Saturday afternoon, a beaming Daniels discussed his quick transition to the NFL from the ACC before hopping on a plane to Durham, N.C. to walk with his classmates.
But while Daniels was certainly proud of his accomplishments, it was the work he did in St. Louis the two days prior that left him hoping that his newly-earned degree would be rendered useless for the foreseeable future.
“Hopefully I won’t be needing to use it anytime soon,” Daniels said.
When his football playing days are over, Daniels said he hopes to use that degree to get into some form of educational policy, either as a teacher or perhaps even a politician. But for now, he’s banking on those days being a long way into the future.
That’s because Daniels’ top priority now is becoming a permanent member of the St. Louis Rams.
Despite earning a reputation as one of college football’s biggest hitters and earning draftable grades from more than one team – the Rams included – Daniels didn’t hear his name called during the 2012 NFL Draft.
Although Daniels went undrafted, he was certainly a popular player among NFL teams when they started scrambling to sign rookie free agents.
“I probably had about 15 teams calling,” Daniels said. “My phone, my mom’s phone, the house phone, my agent’s cell phone all blowing up. So I was talking to the Broncos on one line and then hold on, I got St. Louis on the other line. It was all very hectic but it happened so fast I probably had a decision made within five minutes after the draft was all over.”
When it came down to it, the cerebral Daniels wasn’t much concerned with signing bonus money or anything guaranteed up front. Instead, he and his agent focused their search on finding the place that best provided an opportunity for Daniels to make the roster and develop as a player.
Ultimately, that decision became apparent when the Rams expressed their interest. Daniels saw a clear opening in the secondary where the Rams have starters Quintin Mikell and Darian Stewart as well as versatile backup Craig Dahl.
Considering that most teams carry four safeties, that left a huge opening on the back end of the depth chart for Daniels to potentially earn a job.
“I had no idea what the Rams situation was but my agent had looked into it,” Daniels said. “By the time the fifth round came, he had already pulled out everything and started going through the teams. Draft day was my first time ever hearing from the Rams which was kind of shocking to me. My agent said this was a great situation right here, opportunities to come out here and help this team win ball games.”
St. Louis was more than just a land of opportunity for Daniels. As a student of the game, Daniels knew full well the history of coach Jeff Fisher.
Fisher was once a hard-hitting defensive back for the Bears and has always had an affinity for similar players as a coach.
It remains to be seen how Daniels will transition to the NFL but his work at Duke would certainly fit the mold as a Fisher-type player.
On his way to first-team All ACC honors and second-team All American status in 2011, Daniels racked up 126 tackles to go with two interceptions and 14 passes defended. He finished third in balloting for ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
For his career, Daniels posted 324 tackles, 13 for loss, four interceptions, seven forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and 27 pass breakups.
“Jeff Fisher is a hard hitting kind of guy and he loves hard hitting safeties,” Daniels said. “I believe I am that so I think I will be a great fit here with a great coach and so I am looking forward to the opportunity.”
Daniels brings plenty of intangibles to the table, as well. As a captain for the Blue Devils, he put the responsibility on himself to provide leadership and vocal encouragement for his teammates.
In one YouTube video, Daniels is seen giving a fiery pre-game speech – warning: parental discretion is advised – before highlights of many of his biggest hits run uninterrupted for about four minutes.
“I am a fire up guy,” Daniels said. “Sometimes I like to keep to myself but that game in particular, I really got going. I was a leader and captain on the team and I really wanted to pick my teammates up, get them fired up and have them realize what the stakes of the game were. That game determined whether we had an opportunity the next week to go on and play in a bowl game so I just wanted to get my guys firing up. Some cursing went into it but that was all part of the game.”
That isn’t to say that Daniels comes without question marks. By his own admission, Daniels is more of an “in the box” safety more comfortable playing near the line of scrimmage where he can help against the run and chip in on pass rush opportunities.
While at Duke, the Blues Devils didn’t ask Daniels to do much in the way of deep coverage though when he did, he was able to make some plays on the ball. Still, that’s an area that Daniels hopes to improve rapidly with secondary coach Chuck Cecil, another noted big hitter in his playing days.
“Within the system I played in, I wasn’t much of a deep half coverage safety,” Daniels said. “I played more in the box, more up near the line of scrimmage. I just have to get used to playing 20 yards back, reading the quarterback’s eyes, that kind of thing. It won’t take long to get used to this.”
The sooner Daniels grasps some of those concepts, the better his chances of landing a roster spot come September. He’ll be pushed not only by the veterans but also by fellow rookies in Virginia’s Rodney McLeod and UNLV’s Quinton Pointer.
Daniels, McLeod and Pointer all have plenty of motivation to prove that it was a mistake for every NFL team to pass on them multiple times over.
For his part, though, Daniels has no intention of spending another minute thinking about why he wasn’t picked. Instead, he’s set to expend all of his energy on finding a way to delay using his degree for as long as possible.
“Draft day was tough for me not having the opportunity to get my name called,” Daniels said. “I more wanted to do it just for Duke University. They haven’t had someone drafted in 12 years so just to have my name called would have set high hopes for Duke University and all the players there to let them know that there is talent at Duke and people can be drafted from there. It was more for them but either way it goes, it’s all good. Things happen; a lot of people that were supposed to get drafted didn’t get drafted. As long as I got an opportunity, that’s all I asked for.”
Now it’s up to him to make the most of it.
Re: Daniels' Sole Focus on Football ..
how did this guy go undrafted?
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