As apart of a brand new series, Rookie Review aims to preview every rookie selected by Ryan Pace and give insightful analysis for the latest in Bears history
One of the biggest storylines of the impending Bears training camp is how well first-year coach Matt Nagy’s offense performs. How much will the Bears’ offense resemble his previous offense in Kansas City? Will Nagy be able to have the same early success as fellow Andy Reid disciple, Doug Pederson, has had in Philadelphia? One thing is for sure though, the Bears offense will be fast, flexible and feature a zone blocking scheme.
Nagy and the Bears came out of the 2018 NFL draft with potentially one of the better zone blocking fits with the second-round pick, James Daniels. Daniels, the 39th overall pick out of the University of Iowa, ran a similar blocking scheme in college. His college head coach, Kirk Ferentz, is a former offensive lineman and a huge proponent of the zone blocking scheme which emphasizes angle blocking to create running lanes for the running back to choose, rather than opening specific holes. Under Ferentz, Iowa has produced 17 draft picks on the offensive line. Another 11 blockers were drafted under Ferentz as an offensive line coach.
Daniels is the prototypical Hawkeye lineman who displays sound blocking technique and a strong base. He is an excellent reach blocker, due to his quickness out of his stance and long arms. Daniels climbs to the second level very quickly, where he has the ability to dominate smaller linebackers in the run game and defensive backs while lead blocking on a screen pass. However, he has to be careful not to get to the second level too quickly and allow a penetrating defensive lineman to get up the field too fast for another blocker to pick up. It also appears that Daniels savors the chance to beat on a smaller defender as he can get overaggressive at times going for a crushing block, which allows the defender to use his momentum against him and slip an open field block.
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In the passing game, Daniels displays a strong anchor and extremely active feet to effectively mirror movements of a quicker defensive tackle. While he does have above average functional strength, Daniels played sub-300 pounds in college. He tipped the scales at 306 at the combine and probably needs to maintain that weight throughout the NFL season in order to maintain that level of effectiveness against some of the better bull rushers in the league.
Daniels will start his first NFL training camp in a competition with Eric Kush at the left guard position. However, he will also get a shot to compete for his more natural position at center, which is currently manned by Cody Whitehair. While Daniels did start 23 of 25 of his collegiate games at center, he does have experience playing left guard. At guard, Daniels’ quickness will be an asset against three-technique pass rushing defensive tackles. He’d also be the primary lead blocker as a pulling guard on screens and outside run plays. But his best fit may be at center. Daniels playing center would move Whitehair to guard, where both players would possibly be at their most natural positions. Daniels also shows outstanding ability on combo blocks, as it allows him to quickly get a block on the nose tackle, before passing him off to a guard and going after a linebacker on the second level.
At just 20 years old until September, Daniels has a lot of room and time to grow and develop. By all accounts, Daniels is an intelligent player and how fast he picks up the offense and the familiar blocking scheme will determine how quickly he sees the field. Where exactly he plays matters very little when Daniels is one of the best five linemen on the team he’ll be a fixture on the interior of the offensive line for many years to come.