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Keeler: ‘Diesel’ will fuel Iowa’s D-line this year

[ 1 ] March 30, 2011 |

Defensive lineman Mike Daniels gets pretty fired up after big plays. Or even before games. Just ask his Hawkeye teammates. (Press-Citizen file photo)

Iowa City, Ia. — For anyone still worried about the state of the Hawkeye defensive line, we offer up this nugget, courtesy of Broderick Binns: It’s the fall of 2009, and The Diesel — better known as Mike Daniels — is a redshirt sophomore, a cat wound tighter than the inner guts of a baseball.

“He used to room with (ex-Iowa lineman Karl Klug),” Binns recalled Wednesday afternoon. “And on game day Friday nights, Diesel would be in the hotel room practicing hat reads, trying to get his hands (lined up).”

Klug: “Mike, what are you doing?”

Diesel: “Man, if I get a chance to get in, I want to make sure my hands are right and steps are fine.”

Klug: “But we play tomorrow. You should be relaxing right now.”

“He’s never relaxed,” Binns chuckled. “And he’s always trying to better himself. And that’s the type of guy that we need.”

Lebron Daniel is that type of guy. So is Thomas Nardo. And Joe Forgy. Ditto, Steve Bigach, Carl Davis and Dominic Alvis.

“Love the chip on the shoulder,” Daniels said. “Welcome it at all costs. Iowa guys always play with a chip on our shoulder, regardless of the situation.”

Chips ahoy. The anchors of arguably the best front four in Iowa history — Adrian Clayborn, Christian Ballard and Klug — have moved on, leaving behind a trail of quarterback carcasses and a fairly large shadow for their understudies to dance with.

Then again, tell Daniels he’s a question mark, and the response is interesting. First comes the glare. Then the smile. Actually, it’s not as much a smile as it is a smirk, the way a python smirks right before it swallows a mouse.

“That’s good. That’s fine,” said Daniels, who made eight starts last fall, recording 11 tackles for loss and four sacks along the way. “The last time I recall (that) we were in the underdog role, we won the Orange Bowl.”

Fair point. Still, what the two-deep lacks in experience, it more than makes up for in quicks and guts.

The early word during spring drills is that six to eight linemen could see time on a rotation basis — as opposed to the usual five or six — until the right combination clicks. Just as it is with their counterparts on the other side of the trenches, defensive line play is about chemistry and sync.

That takes time. Time and reps. Lots and lots of reps.

“It’s so critical,” Binns noted. “If you take a bad step, if you take step wrong to the right, 6 inches to the right, you’re going to be reached, or you’re going to be behind the block. So repetition is definitely needed on the defensive line. That’s what spring ball is for, just to get the chemistry going.”

Daniels, a 6-foot-1 jackhammer, put it this way: “The bar is set high, and our job is to get above that bar. The guys who aren’t playing are pushing the guys who are playing. The guys who are playing are pushing the guys who aren’t playing. And the guys who are playing are pushing each other.”

Or each other’s locker stalls. Which brings us to linebacker Tyler Nielsen’s favorite Diesel story:

“One time after practice, he was all fired up, and he jumped into my locker and broke it. Kind of just shred my locker in half. He was just excited about how the practice had gone.

“He just jumped against the outside and cracked the door. But that’s Mike Daniels for ya.”

Oh, yeah. They’re going to be just fine.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Sean Keeler: Sean Keeler has been a sports columnist at The Des Moines Register since 2002. Got a story tip, comment, complaint? E-mail him at skeeler@dmreg.com. You can follow him on twitter at twitter.com/seankeeler or on Facebook at facebook.com/smkeeler. View author profile.

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