How frustrating must it be to start a season on a monster pace with sights set on the playoffs and a 1,000 yard season only to have it cut short with a torn ACL.
That’s what Owen Daniels and the Texans dealt with in the 2009 season. Owen bounced back in 2010 and started Week 1, but suffered a few setbacks in training camp and ultimately missed time mid-season with a hamstring injury. Fortunately, Owen returned to wreak havoc the last four weeks of the season, finishing with the 2nd best numbers among TEs. Lucky for the Texans, Owen re-signed this offseason making their offense one of the more dangerous in the league.
I spent some time talking to Owen about how he’s feeling physically, what makes him so successful as a pass catching TE, why he re-signed before the lockout, and his Catch-a-Dream Foundation and it’s upcoming Owen’s Locker program.
Steve Wyremski (SW): How’s the offseason going in general? What have you been up to?
Owen Daniels (OD): It’s been going well, man. Been trying to keep it as status quo as possible in terms of what we’ve been doing the past offseasons. Here we’ve had organized runs. [Matt] Schaub’s been working out. He’s been up since the end of March, which is when we usually start. Everyone’s kind of lifting in their own gyms; it’s hard to get everyone organized in one spot. We’ve been getting together anywhere from 15-20+ guys and we’re running daily over at Rice. They’ve been nice enough to let us use their field over there, which is pretty cool.
SW: So it’s a bunch of the Texans out there… is it just offensive guys or a mix?
OD: It was a good mix. I would say a few more offensive guys than defensive guys, but a pretty solid mix from the end of March until [mid-June]. The last week, we had Schaub and DeMeco [Ryans] organize a mini-camp. We had about 40 guys out there and we were able to pretty much have a full practice and run some plays. We plan on doing another one [this] week. We’ve been trying to do as much as we can with what we got.
SW: Going back a little bit, you suffered the torn ACL back in ’09. You had a few setbacks last year in training camp and mid-season. You had a period where you missed a few games with a hamstring injury. Then you came back at the end of the year and were pretty productive. How’s the body feeling now?
OD: I feel really good. Last year was a struggle. Coming off the ACL, the rehab was going well then I had an issue with a stress fracture in my knee cap and had to shut it down in the summer. That really set me back in terms of being ready for week 1. I really forced the issue there and made sure I was out there. I wasn’t 100%, but I was doing what I could with where I was at. [I] started feeling good week 3/week 4 then had that hammy that put me out for 5 weeks. The trainers were great about it; they didn’t want me out there until I was totally healed up in that hamstring. It was a pretty solid tear. I did feel really good when I came back, so I was able to get back in the mix and get back in the flow of things. At least, I was moving in the right direction as far as how I was feeling and how I was playing.
Now I feel great. The offseason’s been treating me really great. It’s probably one of the best offseasons I’ve had as a pro so far. It’s a little strange considering that we’re not at the stadium, but you’ve got to find a way to get your work in and be ready whenever they let us back. I’m doing great and finally feeling like my old self again too.
SW: If you were to compare how you feel now versus how you felt pre injury in 2009. How does that compare?
OD: I would say I’m right there. Nothing’s ailing me. The knee doesn’t bother me; the hamstring doesn’t bother me. I’m just a couple years older, that’s it. The good thing is that I didn’t have as much wear and tear on the body last year in terms of being banged around, so I feel fresh and started the offseason a little earlier than I typically would [to] make sure I definitely feel good.
SW: Any questions or concerns with the knee or the hamstring at all going into 2011?
OD: No. I don’t. It’s an afterthought for me. I’d honestly never hurt any type of muscle before. I had some knee issues in the past, but the whole hamstring thing was new to me. That’s over and done with. It’s stronger than it was before. I feel great. No sense of being tentative about anything whatsoever. [I’m] just working on my game now and making sure I’m ready to go.
SW: [Explain PFF]. Going back to 2010 and looking at the game-by-game breakdown, we ranked your best game of the year overall as week 1 against the Colts at a +2.6. Now, that game you only had one catch, but we thought your run blocking was outstanding. Do you agree with that and why?
OD: As my best game of 2010? I don’t know. All we did was run that game. I think we had 2…. well, Arian [Foster] had 230. I think we might have had close to 300 yards rushing. Week 1 I was just running on pure adrenaline just excited to be back out there, be playing with the guys again, and week 1 is filled with energy for any player. That game was a blur to me.
I feel like I definitely felt better other games during the year. I know I felt better playing against the Giants, the Chiefs, and I felt pretty good towards the end of the year. [At the end of the year,] I had some more chances to make plays, yeah.
SW: In 2010, your yards after the catch was roughly 7.5 yards. That ranked you 3rd in the NFL among TEs with 20 catches or more. Is that a system thing or is that something about your game? How do you accomplish that?
OD: It’s probably part of the system. I don’t want to take all the credit for that because a lot of our pass game is timing. The QBs are always having to get the ball out on time. It’s kind of like clockwork when our offense is really working. Matt [Schaub] does a great job of getting the ball in our hands and putting it in a place to catch and run with it. Whenever I get the ball in my hands, I just try and get a first down. No matter where we are. If I can help move the chains and be that possession guy, I feel like I’m helping out. It’s definitely part of the system, but I pride myself on getting the ball in my hands and getting up the field getting as much as I can.
SW: A lot of people talk about your ability to create separation, along with the yards after the catch. It seems like you’re a mismatch for most defenses because of it. Is that an accurate statement? When you’re out on the field, whether it’s a linebacker, corner, or safety that you’re going to figure out a way to exploit that mismatch?
OD: I try to [Laughs]. I got a lot of guys around me that take some attention away from myself. They’ve always got to have someone over the top of Andre [Johnson], you got Kevin Walter who you have to worry about on the other side, and obviously they have to worry about the run game. Lots of times, I’m matched up one on one and I feel confident running routes on linebackers who are typically not the best in pass coverage. Safeties are always kind of smaller than I am, so I can use my body to get in position to make plays.
You can’t go out there and think, “I hope I get open this play”. You have to go out there and tell yourself that you’re going to get open no matter what. That’s just reps in practice every week, going against good guys, and changing your game and making sure that you keep people off balance. I’ve learned over the years that you can’t do the same thing. People will catch on in this league. You have to go out there and have confidence that you’re going to get open and make a play. That’s just the way I go about doing it.
SW: When you talk about doing things differently each year, if you look at your snap breakdown in 2010, 75 of your snaps were lined up out wide as a receiver. That’s only 13.5% of your total snaps. When you compare that to guys like Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez, and Kellen Winslow, they’re up around the 40% range lined up out wide. Why aren’t you seeing more time split wide with how successful these other pass catching tight ends have been lining up there?
OD: It’s a good question. I know I line up everywhere on the field. Typically, I am on the line of scrimmage though. I’ll be in the backfield a little bit [and] in the slot a little bit like you said. I don’t know if it’s because it’s where I’m at a majority of the time, but I feel most comfortable coming off the line of scrimmage. I guess if I was in the slot a bit more, I’d be more comfortable there and I do when they put me in those positions. It’s just the way we run our offense. We do a lot of two TE stuff [and] we want to make it look like we want to do anything on any given play. Whether it’s a run play or a pass play, we want it to look the same. You don’t want to have run formations and pass formations. It’s work out well. It’s fun when they put me in those different spots, but I love being on the line of scrimmage. It’s my comfort zone.
SW: We talked a little about your setbacks in 2010, and you alluded to this, but when you look at the last 4 weeks of the season, among TEs you finished 2nd overall in production behind Jason Witten. From your early 2009 play, as well, and your 2010 finish it seems like you and Matt Schaub get in a zone and can’t be stopped. Is that a rhythm thing or is that finding a mismatch over the course of the game and abusing it?
OD: It’s probably a little bit of both. Matt and I have always had a really good relationship off the field and on the field. We’ve had a connection on the field that just comes naturally. I don’t know if he’s just a guy that likes to look at the TE, or he has confidence in me that I’ll get open, or I was able to show that early on when he became the starter here and it’s just carried over. I know he’ll look to me. He’s not afraid to really wear out a mismatch we might have. He’s one of the smartest guys I’ve been around as far as knowing our offense and knowing what the defense is presenting to him at any given time. He’ll know if I’ll get open and he’ll know if I should be open. He’ll tell me, “You need to get open. This is the mismatch today and we’re going to get you the ball.” It’s different week to week. Sometimes we’re flowing and he’s seeing me, and sometimes there [are] those mismatches that you can’t ignore.
SW: You said this offseason before you signed your contract extension that you loved the Texans offense. Is Matt [Schaub] one of the main reasons you say that or is there some other reason why?
OD: He’s a big reason why, definitely. I had a year with David Carr and the last 4 have been with Matt, so there’s a big difference there in terms of where I was as a player. [With Carr,] I was a rookie and really didn’t know what was going on. I was learning things on the fly. It was my first year in the Texans’ offense. Since Matt’s come around, I’m a little more comfortable and into the flow. Clearly our production has been way up in terms of yards and scoring points. He’s a big reason why I say I love playing in the offense.
Also, the TEs are looked at a lot. There are so many plays where it’s being involved in the run game or making plays in the pass game and they’ll put you anywhere on the field. It’s a fun position to play in Coach [Kubiak’s] West Coast Offense.
SW: You re-signed before the lockout went into effect. Why not wait, test free agency, and see what else is out there considering your pass catching ability and the number of teams who could use a player like you?
OD: That’s definitely a thought that crossed my mind. I think I weighed that option, [but] there were a lot of factors that went into making that decision. We tried to make a deal a couple of years ago, but couldn’t come to an agreement and I played under that restricted tender. The factors were that I love the offense, I have a ton of respect for our head coach, we have the best receiver in the league, one of the best running backs in the league, one of the best quarterbacks in the league… why would I want to leave that? The grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Maybe in a perfect world it would have been more money out there from teams being in the free market, but that wasn’t the biggest factor for me.
The biggest factor for me was being in a place where I can be successful and I can help make the team successful. That’s the way things have gone my whole career here. I don’t have to play for another team to feel wanted. I now have an opportunity to play for one franchise my whole career which I think is a pretty cool thing. I could have waited and if I had waited, I’d be in limbo and not know what’s going on. I know as much as I can about the situation [right now]. I know where I’m going to be playing football when they let us play, I know who I’m going to be playing with, I know where I’m going to be living, and I’m extremely happy with all of that.
SW: In the last two games of 2010, you produced back to your old self. Andre Johnson was out those two weeks and didn’t play. With the emergence of Arian Foster and the fact that we all know Andre will get his, is there any concern from your perspective that there won’t be enough balls to go around?
OD: No, I don’t need to have 70-80 catches a year to feel good and feel like I’m contributing to the offense. There might be a few less balls to go around, but Andre’s not going to get every pass. As much as we want to throw him the ball 10-15 times a game, team’s try to take him away. The great thing about having a good running back is that those linebackers or that safety get nosy and the play-action pass works a lot better when you have a great running back. There will always be opportunities to make plays [and] there will always be plenty of balls to go around.
SW: Do you find that with Andre and the respect he commands with the safety over the top that helps you whether it be spots in the zone or one-on-one man to man. Do you find that helps you a bit?
OD: Absolutely. It’s hard to play man coverage when you have to commit more than one person to ‘Dre. It’s more than just me and ‘Dre out there. It’s Kevin Walter, it’s David Anderson, it’s Jacoby Jones, [and] it’s Joel Dreessen. There’s a lot of people to worry about. When you put multiple people on one person, there’s going to be holes. When guys are cheating up and getting out of position in a play-action situation, there’s going to be holes and you have to find them. That all definitely helps out.
SW: Back in ’09 before the torn ACL, you were well on your way to a 1,000 yard season. You had roughly 39 catches for almost 500 yards over 7 games (not including the game injured in week 8). In this Houston offense, can you be a 1,000 yard receiver?
OD: I think it’s a possibility, [but] that’s not what I’m focused on. Those first 7 and a half games of 2009, I had over 500 yards, had a bunch of touchdowns, and a bunch of catches. Things were going well for me [and] we were 5-3 as a team. We’re just trying to get back there. Being a 1,000 yard receiver would be nice. I can’t say that I don’t want to be a 1,000 yard receiver because clearly you don’t get too many opportunities to make that happen. You gotta make sure you’re making [plays]. [In a 1,000 yard season,] you’re making the play pretty much every time the ball’s thrown to you. In terms of the targets per year or the average target per game, that typically doesn’t change too much. It’s how you’re playing at the time and what you can make out of those targets.
SW: In 2009 you produced, in 2008 you were a Pro Bowler, and when you look at your numbers at the end of 2010, you ranked ahead of most TEs in the league including the likes of Vernon Davis, Chris Cooley, Antonio Gates. You still aren’t talked about with those guys or considered a household name at this point and you really should be. What do you need to do or what needs to happen in order for you to get more respect from the fans, media, etc.?
OD: I think my respect comes from being good and going to the playoffs. Individuals get respect and attention when your team plays well and people know who you’re team is. If you’re not a fan in Texas / a fan in Houston, there’s probably not a lot of people on the East Coast/West Coast that pay a lot of attention to the Texans. That makes sense because we haven’t been to the playoffs. Once we get there, you get a little bit more respect from your peers around the league, from fans, and media around the country.
Andre Johnson just started getting the respect he deserves and he’s been a beast for years. He’s been doing it for a long time and it’s just that he’s been on a lot of bad teams here. Hopefully we’re moving in the right direction, but he’s just starting to get that respect he deserves. It definitely comes from good teams and players on those teams getting more respect. You have to get to the playoffs so everyone else on the team can get some love too.
SW: You mention the playoffs. You’ve been with the Texans your entire career since being drafted back in ’06 and you haven’t been to the playoffs yet. What does this team need to do in order to get to the playoffs?
OD: We just need to finish games. We were 6-10 in ’06, then had back-to-back 8-8 years, [and] then a 9-7 year. We just missed the playoffs that year in 2009. This past year, we were in a bunch of close games and a bunch of one possession games. We found ways to lose those games. For whatever reason, our offense couldn’t put together one last drive or the defense couldn’t get a stop when we needed it. You look back on the previous year and you try to learn from those things. You try to apply it to the offseason and carry it to this [upcoming] season. It’s about finishing games for us. We were right there. There were really no blow out games. The Giants really got after us and that was the only loss that was more than a one possession deal. You just got to find a way. Most games in the NFL are close and the good teams find a way to get it done. We need to find a way.
SW: You started the Owen Daniels’ Catch a Dream Foundation. Tell me a bit about it and what it’s all about.
OD: Started it a year ago and had our inaugural event last August at training camp. It kind of started when myself, Eric Winston, and David Anderson had a little charity group on our team through the Texans. We go to the Schriner’s Hospital here in Houston and have been going for a couple of years. We donate t-shirts and take kids to watch the games. That’s where I got interested in helping out the kids. I had an opportunity to work with this company and get the charity started. We work specifically with children’s hospitals here in Houston. Any kid in the hospital is who we want to help. It’s about the kids and the families too to make their stay and the environment they’re in a little more enjoyable. A lot of times that puts a lot of stress on the family to have a kid in the hospital for an extended period of time. It’s stressful on the parents and stressful on the siblings.
[This week,] we’re launching Owen’s Locker at the Texas Children’s hospital at the campus in the medical center. They’ve got over 300 beds there and have only a handful of DVD players or laptops. To make things more enjoyable and make things go a little quicker, we’ve teamed up with Wal-Mart and gotten donations to put in this locker with laptops, DVD players, DVDs, PSPs, Nintendo DSs, and all that stuff.
[In the hospital,] kids range from very young to teenagers. It’s hard to reach kids of certain ages sometimes and keep them motivated and upbeat. Hopefully this stuff can not only be a little educational, but allow them to have a little fun at the same time. I’m really excited about it. [It’s for] the kids who are suffering in the hospital, as well as their siblings. Sometimes for the siblings, they’re put on the back burner because the focus is on the riceill kid. Any person in the family will be able to check these things out. I just hope it’ll make things a little bit better for them.
Owen’s monster first half in 2009 coupled with how he closed 2010 and how he’s feeling this offseason make 2011 a perfect opportunity for him to get recognized as one of the top TEs in the game today. I’ll tell you what, I’m not sure how defenses are going to plan for this Texans team in 2011. There are just too many threats, which make this season a perfect time to have the Texans join the playoffs.
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