Texans TE Owen Daniels, like many of his NFL peers, is champing at the bit for the lockout to be lifted so he can get back to work.
Daniels isn't so anxious because he is in contract limbo like roughly one-fourth of the players around the league. He received a four-year, $22 million extension a week before the lockout began.
No, Daniels is eager to prove to the organization and all of its fans that he is worth the investment. That he is the player who was poised to become one of the league's elite tight ends before injuries derailed much of his 2009 and '10 campaigns.
"I know the team has confidence in me to re-sign me with the deal they did," Daniels told PFW earlier this week. "I'm just excited to go out there and get a chance to prove myself again and gain some respect that I may or may not have lost along the way,"
Daniels tore his right ACL in Week Eight of the 2009 campaign. After suffering a setback last spring and dealing with a nagging hamstring injury last season, it was Week 14 before he found his stride again, reeling in 22 catches for 271 yards and a pair of TDs in the final four games.
"I tried to sound like I was feeling great when people asked me last season before I hurt my hamstring, but honestly, last year was a struggle for sure," Daniels admitted. "A little bit just gaining some confidence in the knee earlier in the year, then having the hammy issue and missing five-plus games during the middle of the year was tough. It's always been all or nothing for me, not something little that keeps me out for a little while."
Ending the season on a high note — he was the most targeted Texans receiver the last four weeks with 37 — was critical for the veteran tight end because it allowed him to carry momentum into the offseason.
"It's good from an individual confidence standpoint to feel good and know you're getting back close to where you were before," he said. "I've carried that into the offseason — I'm having my best offseason as a pro, which is kind of weird since it comes with this situation — but I'm looking forward to getting into camp and playing football with the guys again."
Daniels has been working out with teammates at Rice University since the lockout began. The workouts have included most of the skill-position players on offense, although the defense is expected to participate next week.
He raved about the leadership of QB Matt Schaub and ILB DeMeco Ryans, both of whom have helped spearhead workouts.
Daniels also discussed RB Arian Foster's breakout '10 campaign, saying that it gave the Texans a dimension they had been missing for awhile. He said the chemistry of the offense is outstanding with so many selfless and dynamic playmakers, led by head coach Gary Kubiak.
"That comes from coach Kubs teaching us the right way and us really buying into what he's preaching. We know that unselfish teams win championships and that's what we're striving for."
When the conversation turned to the defense and the bolstering of the unit with new coordinator Wade Phillips and DE J.J. Watt, a fellow University of Wisconsin product, Daniels' excitement grew saying, "It's great to have UW South with three Badgers on the team [TE Garrett Graham is entering his second year with the team] … kind of three different eras of Wisconsin, too; it's pretty sweet."
"We have a lot of good athletes, a lot of good players on defense, and I think we just needed someone like Coach Phillips to put it all together and put people in the right spots. … It's going to be fun, man. … it's always a good test when you have either a good offense or good defense to work against everyday, so hopefully we can … really give the defense a challenge and that should benefit our team as we go through the year."