A sit down with defensive line coach Sam Daniels

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Rams defensive line coach Sam Daniels. Daniels is entering his third season as the defensive line coach after spending past two seasons at Frostburg State University under the same title. (Credit: Shepherd University Athletics Department)

What drills do you have the defensive line do first in preparation for an upcoming season?

The drills that I focus on are drills that make sure the kids’ steps are correct, they’re stepping with the right foot, that they’re using their correct hand. We definitely run the kids a lot on that, we do a lot of high intensity drills, everything is fast paced… and make them play with leverage so, definitely hips are a big emphasis this spring. Hips and pad level.”

What is the main priority for the defensive line during the offseason?

The main priority for the offseason is gaining a good knowledge of the playbook and what we’re trying to do. Sometimes in the season you just get a chance to get the kids to know what the plays are. In the springtime you actually have time to break down why they’re running the plays, and what they’re trying to accomplish in the plays, and I think that’s real big in the springtime because you do have that extra time and those built in breaks in between each practice. Coach Kline focuses on everybody trying to gain a better knowledge of what everyone is doing.

What is the role of the defensive line on a given play in the Shepherd defense?

With our players up front, number one is stopping the run. Our mentality starts in the spring with Indy drills of hand placement and leverage and working out of our hips. We are a gap sound defense so that’s important to us, and it’s real important to our whole philosophy if everybody is in their gaps, it helps out everything else tremendously. If we stop the run, we can get them behind the chains and then everybody knows we love to rush the passer on third down.

What do you look for when scouting potential recruits on the defensive line?

When I’m looking at a high school player and I’m doing an evaluation, the first thing I look for in anything is movement. I understand some people would rather recruit size or strength first.   The number one thing that I recruit is movement… getting them stronger and getting them more flexible, I always think you can build on that, but I never really think that you can build on much of the [natural] movement skills. The speed aspect I think you can always get better with those techniques, number two is definitely motor. On film if I see a kid doesn’t have a motor I’m not really that interested no matter how good he is, no matter how much he means to his high school team. I’m looking for guys that play hard every single snap they’re on the field. I’m looking for guys that play to the whistle, I’m looking for guys that understand that being the first person to the ball or the first around the ball every play even though you are a d-lineman is a priority number one.

How do you plan on replacing the key contributors that are moving on after last season like Myles Humphrey, EJ Norris, and Bruno Angyangwe among others?

Those guys are highly talented players, like Humphrey. You got a defensive player of the year being scouted, going to NFL stadiums and working out at pro days. You got EJ Norris, another All-Conference kid, doing the same thing working out, 6’5, 240lb defensive end. Or you got Bruno, he had double digit sacks last year, and he played almost every position on defense for us and still had good sacks, great production for us, another all conference player. I don’t really think you can go out on a limb and try to replace those players, I think you go out and try to find a role for the players you do have and you hope players from last year have done a good job laying down a foundation and the roots just to help the younger kids get themselves started in their college football careers. Those guys are big mentors, I know EJ has been to practice, I know Hump’ has a big influence on the kids, they were great leaders, great players and even better people

What are your expectations for the defensive line this season?

Expectations for this year’s defensive line are the same thing they’ve always been regardless of who’s out there, trying to stop the run first. Getting better in the interior of the front against the run always spills over to the ends. So, my expectation is that we are one of the top teams in the nation in stopping the run and being able to have those tackles for loss to add up so we can ultimately get them behind the chains so we can rush the passer.

What is your personal philosophy for the defensive line?

It starts with being able to rush four and get pressure with four without bringing additional personnel, and it’s kind of coach Kline’s philosophy too. With me my other thing is I’m always trying to rotate 10 players, like I always want 10 players on the field. I want them to be fresh in the fourth quarter. I’m a big rotational guy, big personnel guy.

What is one thing you brought with you from your collegiate days as a two-time All American at James Madison University into coaching?

One of the biggest things I’ve brought from being a player to now being a coach is the emphasis on finishing the drill. I’m real big on if it’s a cone on the ground it’s there for a reason, that’s an endpoint, you don’t end before the cone. I’m real big on hustling and not walking on the field. I always understood, that as an undersized player you can’t go out there with half motivation, can’t go out there kinda wanting to play the game. Like if you’re an undersized player you gotta give everything or you give nothing so from being a player to now being a coach that’s the same way I coach it. Its pretty much all or nothing, high effort, high octane defensive line play.

Vaughn Brewer is a sports writer for The Picket, he can be reached at vbrewe01@rams.shepherd.edu