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Bears rookie James Daniels still drawing raves from Iowa coach, teammates

Iowa senior defensive tackle Matt Nelson is 6-8, 295 pounds. He hopes to be a surgeon someday, though it should be pointed out that he’d also excel as a James Bond villain or a bouncer at a biker bar.

Yet Nelson doesn’t mind admitting it: The real freak at the line of scrimmage during practices last season was center James Daniels. Nelson went head-to-head against the 6-4, 295-pound Bears rookie on dozens of snaps every practice.

“Pretty much every play,” he said Tuesday at a gathering of Big Ten coaches, top players and media at the downtown Marriott. “He’s probably the quickest offensive lineman I’ve ever played against. He’s just a freak athlete, honestly. And if you just walked in the room, you would not guess that he’s that freaky of an athlete. Just his change of direction alone is unreal.”

Longtime Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz made his bones teaching offensive line play. Over his four decades of coaching, he has not seen a center more talented than Daniels. Ferentz puts Daniels in a select group with long-ago Iowa standout Joel Hilgenberg — brother of Super Bowl champion Bears center Jay — and former NFLer Wally Williams, whom Ferentz tutored in Cleveland and Baltimore.

Iowa offensive lineman James Daniels gets set to snap. (AP)

“When you get a player that has those kinds of abilities, it’s really rare,” Ferentz said. “The good news for James is his best football is ahead of him. He’s 20 years old right now.”