DaVaris Daniels can start taking hits now. He can stop listening to Bennett Jackson too.
During Saturday’s practice the sophomore receiver dropped the red jersey that had become standard equipment since Daniels broke his left clavicle trying to make a touchdown catch at Boston College. He missed the season’s final two games and the first few weeks of Alabama prep.
But Daniels took a few hits on Saturday and probably quieted Jackson too. The junior cornerback had been harassing Daniels for his involuntary choice of apparel the past few weeks, the receiver a target for Everett Golson but off-limits for Notre Dame’s defense.
“Bennett is definitely the worst,” Daniels said. “I’ve never been the type of guy to shy away from contact. When you have to it’s kind of different. It was kind of fun not being able to be touched.”
After practice Brian Kelly talked about the necessity of big plays against an Alabama defense that doesn’t allow many, likely with Daniels in mind. His 45-yard reception against Pittsburgh helped start Notre Dame’s comeback. And despite not catching a touchdown pass all season, the sophomore is viewed as the receiving corps’ big-play threat.
While Kelly wouldn’t predict where Daniels would pick up after his lengthy absence, the head coach expects at least something from a receiver who’d come on in November before going out.
Daniels’ seven catches for 86 yards against Pittsburgh were both career highs. He made two catches for 22 yards at Boston College before going down.
“He’s a really good player that understands that his reps are going to be based on how he practices and how he performs,” Kelly said. “I’m certain that he’ll play a role in the game.”
The idea Daniels could play at all is one the receiver didn’t entertain when he first learned the extent of his injury. At the time of impact, Daniels didn’t know what had happened to his shoulder.
“The whole thing really wasn’t a whole bunch of pain,” he said. “It was just kind of a different feeling. I don’t know how to explain it. it was just different.”
The next morning back in South Bend, Daniels got an X-ray that confirmed the break. He figured his season was done. That’s when Notre Dame’s staff presented him with a surgical option, which meant a five or six week rehab. At that point the BCS National Championship Game, with Notre Dame still an outsider to make it, was eight weeks away.
“Initially I didn’t know it was broken until they told me. Then I thought my season was over,” Daniels said. “That was the whole reason I got the surgery in the first place, was to come back and play in this game. To really have that opportunity, it’s crazy. It’s a blessing really.”
With the rehab process complete, Daniels believes he’s ready to restart his climb back into the receiver rotation. It’s not clear how quickly he’ll get there, but Notre Dame’s offense should be better for it.
“It’s a big game, everybody needs to step up,” Daniels said. “Everybody needs to play to their best ability. This is the last one we’ve got. You never know when you get another chance at this.”