Guys gettin’ down singing a capella in the show choir aren’t usually the answer for the Blackshirts.
A nose guard and grad transfer from Oklahoma State’s play has justified high expectations for the second time in his career. Darrion Daniels had a decorated prep career at Bishop Dunne High School in Dallas and the recruiting boys had him wearing 4-stars when he choose the Cowboys over Oklahoma, TCU and Iowa in March of 2015.
And a transfer this hyped as well as Daniels at times looked like All Big 12 accolades were in his future before injuries cut short his junior and senior seasons. He is seen by some to be the key to make a Husker defense on the verge at times last year (Northwestern, MSU), but also wretched at times last year (UM, Purdue), to actually being a stout bunch that can help NU contend for a Big Ten crown in 2019.
The expectations may not be as big as recent grad transfer Tanner Lee but Nebraska does need a stud in the middle after a rough 2018 defensively. For the year, NU’s defense gave up 5.0 a rush attempt to rank near the bottom of the Big Ten and 107th nationally. Also, similarly abysmal in pass rushing stats were the Huskers
However, it was the the first year of a new system and there were signs of hope. The defense many times was solid enough to get teams in 3rd down situations but struggled to get stops on 3rd down (and 4th down) when push came to shove.
In a 3-4 defense, ideally the nose tackle takes two gaps and needs to be double-teamed and hopefully gets upfield a bit as well. This allows the linebackers to make first contact with blockers at the line of scrimmage. This was not happening often enough at NU in 2018 and some teams could lean on Nebraska a bit in short yardage situations to move the chains.
Former Husker cornerback Cortney Grixby and now a coach with the Omaha Beef, pointed out not only can a good nose tackle anchor a defense freeing linebackers up to make plays, but can make an impact in the pass rush, even if that won’t show up in the stats.
“A good nose can not only impact the run game but can push the pocket or not let the QB step up in the pocket and make a throw, many times an unnoticed guy,” Grixby said. “Like Vince Wolfolf was for so many years with the Patriots, a nose can be a menace in the passing game too without getting a sack or even or a QB hurry.”
Considering NU recruited to a 4-3 defense until early 2017, not a huge surprise they lacked a true nose tackle as defensives tackles in a 4-3 are lighter. Coincidentally they did have one guy who fit the bill in Damon Daniels, Darrion’s younger brother, and likely back-up in 2019. Both Daniels came out of Bishop Dunne HS in Texas.
At Bishop Dunne, recruiters noted many times he would simply overpower opponents at the point of attack with his size and strength in one of Dallas’s bigger districts to go along with excellent quickness for a 300-pounder. Daniels running down RBs away behind the line of scrimmage was not uncommon. In addition, they noted his technique and pad level were good and that should bode well for college when his size and strength were not such an advantage.
Daniels did not disappoint with a productive freshman year off the bench in Stillwater, even though he as was only 17 years old. He contributed immediately being in the 2-deep and playing in every game for Oklahoma State.
However, in 2015 he was not content and wanted more playing time, despite his youth. He talked with OKState.com in 2017 about his freshman year growing pains.
“I’m used to being the superstar on the team, but I was a freshman, 17 years old, I wasn’t on the field as much as I wanted to, “ Daniels said. “But the coaches kept talking to me, I kept talking to them and just figuring how I can get better and help on the team.”
Daniels did progress enough in 2015 that he was named Oklahoma State’s Most Outstanding Defensive Newcomer as a true freshman. He played in 13 games, had 16 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and a half sack.
Sophomore year was similar stats-wise, but his junior year the work started to pay off for Daniels and the Cowpokes.
As a junior in 2017, Daniels started 10 games, had 26 tackles, five tackles for loss, a half sack and two QB hurries. However, he had his season ended after 10 games with an injury, but still earned the Vernon Grant Award for outstanding leadership, spirit and enthusiasm from his teammates.
Also, Daniels did begin to show that 4-star promise as well in 2017. In a mid-season game versus TCU, had a game worthy of consideration for the Big 12 Conference Player of The Week honors with an 8-tackle and five solo stop day from his nose tackle spot.
But the campaign for more honors as a senior was cut short early in 2018.
Daniels was injured four games into the season and was able to use a redshirt. At the time of his injury, Coach Mike Gundy knew Daniels would have options, including turning pro. Gundy said to the Tulsa World at the time, “I hope like crazy that’s he here next year.”
In December, Gundy’s fears were realized and Daniels announced he was transferring to NU. However, going to play with his younger brother possibly made it go down easier for Gundy but still left a hole in his defense.
The new transfer quickly meshed with his brother’s team in Lincoln and in the spring talked about “one heartbeat” for the Huskers. He also felt the spring was a learning time, as while he played in a 3-4 before, it’s still a new scheme.
“This spring I was trying to get ahold of my position on the defensive line,” Daniels said after the Spring Game. “I was working nose, getting my plays down and just seeing the whole scheme of the defense.”
The scheme of the Husker defense under Defensive Coordinator Erik Chinander is set for the linebackers to make plays the former Blackshirt Grixby noted and that puts the onus on the man in the middle to do his part. It makes for long days for the defense overall if the nose guard is not getting a push up front, like it was for NU in 2018 and Daniels looks to change that trend in 2019.
While still highly unusual, Daniels is not a unicorn with the football and singing talents as it’s not the first time the Huskers have had a crooner clogging things up in the middle. In the late 90s, defensive tackle Steve Warren was known to break off a few bars with a talented voice.
If Husker fans see Daniels wreaking havoc up front and is being compared to Warren for more than singing and jokes about “Glee,” that would be music to Husker fans’ eyes.