Monday, June 19, 2017

Daniels delighted with landing spot

In his final season for Iowa, LeShun Daniels Jr. rushed for 1,058 yards and 10 touchdowns.

By Jim McBride
June 17, 2017

As dust clouds billowed over Gillette Stadium during minicamp last week, it would have been easy to draw the conclusion that the Patriots were paying homage to Woody Hayes.

But Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels weren’t working on their grind-it-out, clock-killing, “3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust” offense, as contact is verboten during the sessions. No, these clouds were created by the crews setting up the Monster Jam truck show that invaded the turf for the weekend.

However, when the Patriots reconvene at the end of July for training camp, and collisions are not only allowed but encouraged, they might have the perfect vehicle in their stable to churn out those tough yards.

LeShun Daniels Jr. is the least-heralded member of a stacked running back group, but the undrafted rookie out of Iowa might just be the best-equipped of the group to fill the void left by LeGarrette Blount’s free agency departure.

“I’m the biggest of the bunch, so you think that I’d be a power back,’’ the chiseled, 6-foot, 225-pounder said after a recent practice. “But really, I’m just trying to improve on every part of my game so that if my number is called, I’m ready to go in and help the team in any way or fashion, whether that be running the ball, blocking, pass catching, any of that.’’

Sifting through Daniels’s highlights, particularly games from his senior season, it’s easy to see why the Patriots recruited him after the draft concluded.

Daniels capped his four-year Big Ten career (in which he amassed 1,895 yards) with a phenomenal senior campaign, when he rumbled for 1,058 yards and 10 touchdowns.

His signature moment came when he thrilled the home crowd in Iowa City one last time with a 158-yard, two-touchdown performance under the Friday night lights in a 40-10 upset win over Nebraska.

“It was senior day, so it was a pretty big deal. I came in very confident and it was our last game at Kinnick Stadium, so I wanted to go out with a bang,’’ said Daniels, who did just that, almost singlehandedly overpowering the Cornhuskers.

The performance shed some light on Daniels, who had been flying under the radar of a lot of teams.

“I think it helped,’’ said Daniels. “I think having great games always helps in some fashion. At the time, Nebraska was a ranked team and it was prime-time football on a Friday night, with nothing else going on so everybody was watching. So obviously on a big stage like that, you want to play well.’’

Despite his résumé, Daniels wasn’t extended an invitation to the NFL Combine. He didn’t sulk, however. Instead, he used it as motivation.

He dazzled at his Pro Day, registering a flat 4.5 in the 40, faster than more celebrated backs (and eventual draftees) Leonard Fournette (4.51), Kareem Hunt (4.63), and Samaje Perine (4.65).

His physicality, maturity, and leadership skills were all reasons the Patriots were attracted to Daniels.
Last week, he touched on why he was attracted to New England.

“Just knowing that they’re a good organization and that I could learn a number of different things football-wise that could help me be a better player and help me further my career if I don’t stick here,’’ he said.

Daniels showed speed and quickness during the offseason sessions open to media.

“Things are going well,’’ he said. “Still have a lot to learn.”

Daniels is likely to have more of an impact in training camp, when the intensity is turned up a notch. But Belichick said plenty can be gained from the early summer sessions.

“We have other guys at other positions that fall into a similar category, but again, we do what we can do,” said the coach. “Learning the plays, we work on ball-handling — we don’t have many running plays in team [drills]. But we work on the passing game, special teams, and try to get the footwork and the reads in the running game. But that will come during training camp with nine-on-sevens and half-line drills, and things like that.’’

Belichick and Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz have a bond, and Daniels said he noticed similarities between the two pretty quickly.

“They’re both great coaches and they expect the best from each one of their players,’’ he said. “No matter what your role is, they expect you to come out here and give your all in every drill and every meeting, and they just want the best for each of their players, and both coaches aren’t going to settle for anything less than your best.’’

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