Rookie guard James Daniels laughed and shook his head in the aftermath of the Bears’ 15-6 win Sunday over the Los Angeles Rams:
Had he ever gone against a defensive tackle anything like Rams All-Pro Aaron Donald?
“I don’t think I’ve ever played a D-tackle like that one,” Daniel said. “He rushes unique compared to other defensive tackles. [Ndamukong] Suh plays like a lot of other tackles but just better than they do. But Donald is different.
“No defensive tackle I’ve ever played has played like that. He protects his chest and that’s why offensive linemen have trouble. You’re trying to ‘punch’ him but he protects and there’s nothing you can punch. He’s at an angle. That’s why he’s so good. If you really look at tape, you see how he protects, and he was doing a great job every play of keeping his hands inside.”
Daniel, who didn’t get his first NFL start until Game 7, has played every bit like the second-round draft choice he was this year. Against Donald on multiple occasions Sunday, he and right guard Bryan Witzmann faced a modern incarnation of similarly-undersized Hall of Fame defensive tackle John Randle.
The result was a win for the Bears and a game in which Donald, the NFL sack leader with 16.5 over 12 games, managed just one (of the Rams’ three for the game) hit on Mitchell Trubisky to go with one solo tackle and one assist. It was Donald’s least-productive 2018 day since Week 1 at Oakland.
Donald did beat Daniels on more than one occasion. But it’s what happened next that made perhaps an even greater impression.
Daniels recovered within the play, kept his physical and mental balance – “If you start panicking,” he said, laughing, “that’s not going to be good” – and kept Daniels at bay in pass protection and, along with Witzmann and center Cody Whitehair, moved the Rams tackle as part of the Bears amassing a season-high 194 rushing yards.
“He just kept his poise, stuck to his basics and technique, and against a guy like that, that’s what you gotta do,” Whitehair said. “There’s going to be ups and downs and it’s all in how you respond to it.”
Coach Matt Nagy saw the same: “One of James’ biggest strengths is if he happens to lose a little leverage he can recover, but for the most part he was very consistent. And man, for being such a young kid, very calm, composed and that was one of the big things we talked about as a team was to stay calm and composed and next play mentality, he did that.”
Daniels credits Whitehair, himself a fellow second-rounder, with helping him through the rough spots of acclimating to the NFL. Whitehair also was instrumental in executing a blocking scheme that dealt with a Rams front seven that included five No. 1 draft picks.
“That was one of the biggest challenges that he’s ever going to have,” Nagy said. “Not all the time, he was not going against him every play, but there’s times where he’s out there and Aaron has so many great moves. But I thought [Daniels’] technique was really good last night. He never lunged too much, he stayed balanced.”
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