Meet James Daniels: Athletic lineman pumped to protect Bears QB Mitch Trubisky

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New Bears center James Daniels at the NFL Scouting Combine. (AP)

When new Bears guard/center James Daniels was in high school, he experienced an awful loss in the 2012 playoffs that he can only describe as “funny” after Friday night.

Why is that?

As a sophomore center at Warren Harding High (Ohio), Daniels faced quarterback Mitch Trubisky, then a superstar senior at nearby Mentor High, in the Division I, Region 1 playoffs in Ohio.

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“He tore us apart,” Daniels said after the Bears drafted the Iowa product in the second round with the 39th overall pick. “He had like 500 total yards against us.”

According to the News-Herald (Ohio), Trubisky was 16-for-23 for 344 yards and five touchdowns in a 45-35 victory. He also ran for 73 yards and a touchdown for Mentor, which led by 21 points in the third quarter.

It was a butt-kicking that Daniels will never forget, especially now that he’ll be expected to keep Trubisky off his own backside.

“I’m really excited,” Daniels said. “It’s crazy. If you would have asked me six years ago if I’d be blocking for him, I would say, ‘You’re lying. That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.’ But it means a lot to me.”

Daniels was a two-year starter at center at Iowa, but general manager Ryan Pace said the Bears plan on starting him off at left guard, while keeping Cody Whitehair at center. Daniels will gradually get work at center.

“Position versatility in our offensive line is important,” Pace said.

Many draft analysts projected Daniels as a first-round pick, rating him above Arkansas’ Frank Ragnow (No. 20, Lions) and Ohio State’s Billy Price (No. 21, Bengals). Daniels’ availability in the second round was said to be the result of his knee issues at Iowa.

But Daniels, who turns 21 in September, said he was drafted where he expected to be. The NFL Draft Advisory Board gave him a second-round grade when he considered leaving Iowa early for the draft.

According to Smith, his past knee problems weren’t a major issue for teams he met with at the NFL Scouting Combine or the ones he visited privately afterward.

“All the trainers and doctors I talked to, they said they didn’t have a problem,” said Daniels, who is 6-3 and 306 pounds. “It didn’t scare them at all.”

Daniels should be viewed as an instant starter for the Bears, who selected him over Boston College pass rusher Harold Landry and also several notable receivers and cornerbacks in the second round.

Harry Hiestand — widely considered one of the preeminent offensive line coaches at any level — was an invaluable part of the Bears’ evaluations this year. He previously coached guard Quenton Nelson (No. 6, Colts) and tackle Mike McGlinchey (No. 9, Cardinals) at Notre Dame.

“[The Bears] liked me, I liked them and the things fell in place for them to pick me up,” Daniels said.

In Daniels, the Bears drafted an athletic and powerful player who is an ideal fit for coach Matt Nagy’s zone running scheme.

Daniels made 23 starts at center during his sophomore and junior seasons after making two at left guard as a true freshman.

“I feel like I’m a hard worker and I’m very athletic,” Daniels said. “I’m also young. Those three things describe me as a player.”

The Bears certainly agree.

“He’s very athletic,” Pace said. “He plays with very good pad level. He’s very quick off the ball, very good technique like a lot of Iowa offensive linemen. It’s a guy who Harry was really passionate about, too. We feel like there is still a lot of upside ahead of this player as young as he is.”

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