A day-by-day Broncos player breakdown is something we've been doing since our days at BroncoTalk nearly a decade ago. This year the tradition continues as we look at the Denver Broncos roster heading into the 2015 season in our 90-in-90 series. Today we keep the football rolling looking at tight end Owen Daniels.
Name: Owen Daniels
Position: Tight End
Height: 6'3" Weight: 245
Age: 32 Experience: 10
Although Daniels is new to the Denver Broncos after joining as a free agent this spring, the former Baltimore Ravens/Houston Texans tight end is not new to working under Gary Kubiak - and that was a key component to signing Daniels to a three-year deal.
And the fact that Daniels has only ever played under a Kubiak-led offense, has made the veteran one of the most sought-after players this offseason as quarterback Peyton Manning - plus the rest of the Broncos offense - have been learning the Kubiak playbook.
But Daniels relishes the teaching role he's been unofficially assigned since joining the squad.
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"I'm here to teach. I'm here to help guys out. It's one thing to go look at it in the meeting room. It's a whole different thing to take it out on the field and add motions and a defense that you have to worry about along with that," he said. "If guys have a question on the field, I'm there to help for sure."
Beginning his 10th year in the NFL, Daniels has always played for Kubiak, who drafted him to the Texans in 2006. The former Badgers tight end started 109 of 115 games in his career with the Texans (2006-2013) and the Ravens (2014). Though he is undoubtedly in the twilight of his career, Daniels' experience and toughness bode well for helping both Manning and the rest of the offense settle in to its new scheme.
Manning noted during OTAs in April that he's "learning a little something from Owen" while Daniels pointed out that the tutelage has been pretty easy with a guy like Manning.
"It's a work in progress, but he's such a good quarterback that it's hard not to get that timing down pretty quick. He's a hard worker, and if we need extra time together we're going to get it in," Daniels said during OTAs in April. "Things are going well. It went well at Duke. It's been going well these past couple of days."
#Broncos believe Owen Daniels, Virgil Green just what they're looking for at tight end http://t.co/z6uZBsVlG4— Kent McHollington (@NFLMcHollington) July 23, 2015
Drafted to the University of Wisconsin as a quarterback, Daniels had a short-lived college career in that position. As the third-string QB his freshman year, Daniels ended the season with as many interceptions as touchdowns - two.
"I didn't have a zero rating. I had a negative quarterback rating," Daniels told the Denver Post earlier this year. "I didn't even think that was possible."
But that unfortunate beginning to college ball opened up the chance to be a tight end, and Daniels instantly found success there as well as a straight path to the NFL.
The two-time Pro Bowler is known for his reliable hands and steadfast blocking even if not flashy at either. After breaking his leg in 2013, the Texans cut Daniels loose that offseason, but the then-31-year-old used it as motivation in a one-year signing with the Ravens last season. Joining his Texans coach who had also been "let go," Daniels and Kubiak enjoyed another successful season together, taking the Ravens to the divisional playoff round before losing the eventual Super Bowl champs.
Though 2012 was arguably Daniels' best year with 62 catches, 716 yards and six touchdowns, the Illinois native had very solid numbers with the Ravens last season, putting up similar stats as the former Broncos tight end he is helping to replace.
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Daniels caught 42 passes for 527 yards last season while Julius Thomas had 43 catches for 489 yards. The difference is in the scoring - Daniels' four touchdowns last season dwarf in comparison to Thomas' 12 TDs. But the quarterback each tight end was playing with last season could have something to do with that.
More importantly, Daniels' strengths at the line and ability to break loose from coverage should make him an asset to the offensive line as well as an easy target for Manning, adding another weapon to the Broncos' offensive arsenal.
Like his new quarterback, Daniels is no spring chicken, so he'll be relying more on smart play rather than speed and athleticism while playing out his three-year contract.
According to Pro Football Focus, Daniels ranked 29th among tight ends in the league with -0.9 overall rating from 832 snaps. Comparing this to Thomas' 5.4 overall rating and current Broncos' No. 1 tight end Virgil Green's 5.7, Daniels looks to have several areas of improvement. While his receiving grade was 2.1 and pass blocking 1.1 according to PFF, his run blocking grade was -3.5.
But having been cut following a major injury just two years ago - and having to rehab his way back to a starting position - Daniels knows how to play with a chip on his shoulder and he won't take playing time for granted as he enters his 10th season.
"I was sure about myself and wanting to show I can still play, and play at a high level and contribute to the team's winning," Daniels said about the Ravens giving him a one-year deal after he was cut by the Texans. "I think last year did a lot for me personally in terms of getting me back out there and people seeing that I can still play a little bit. I'm looking forward to these next few years, for sure."
And relying on his experience as a blocking TE in a Kubiak offense plus smarts is not such a bad thing for him or the rest of the offense - especially since Kubes' plan will require it.
"It's challenging, but a lot of fun, too, because you can do a whole bunch of different stuff," Daniels said of Kubes' offense, adding that you've got to be able to block to handle this scheme. "I think the biggest thing is be on your game mentally. It's very detailed ... being in the right spot at the right time versus the right coverage. I've learned from a very smart football mind these last nine years, and looking forward to learning more."
Daniels knows there are high expectations in Denver - from the fans who love big plays to a calculating quarterback who found great chemistry on the field with JT last year. But meeting those expectations is a challenge Daniels salivates over.
"I think people might expect more out of me, so now I've got to match those expectations," the tight end said when he signed with the Broncos. "I'm playing with a first-ballot Hall-of-Fame quarterback, and I want to make sure we're always on the same page and I'm always in the right spot for him and doing the right things. I'll be studying probably a little more than I have in the past - which is a good thing."
And as far as that production issue now that Thomas is gone? Don't worry about that, Daniels said.
"We have a ton of playmakers here," he said, adding that the ball is going to be spread around in this offense. "It doesn't matter how many catches guys have. Our main goal is to get a ring on our finger this year."
Likely the No. 2 tight end behind Virgil Green, Daniels will be considered a team leader both on and off the field and will be expected to continue his role as mentor to the young guys on the offense.