DaVaris Daniels nailed the big stuff.
On one play during Notre Dame’s second spring practice, the junior receiver got off the line of scrimmage with ease. He ran the perfect route. He made the perfect catch. He showed the kind of open field burst that made him Notre Dame’s only 100-yard receiver last season, doing it against Alabama.
Then, in a workout that wasn’t full pads and didn’t include tackling, Daniels got stripped. The receiver kept running. Putting the football on the ground during a practice when players weren’t supposed to tackle felt small to Daniels.
Offensive coordinator Chuck Martin disagreed. Loudly.
“He just wanted to make sure I knew that I had made a mistake and I just didn’t brush it off,” Daniels said.
For Daniels, spring practice will be an exercise in sweating the small stuff. If he doesn’t, the junior will hear about it from the coaching staff.
It’s not that Brian Kelly and Martin see Daniels as a conundrum. The former four-star receiver made 31 catches for 490 yards last year. He returned from a broken collarbone to post six catches for 115 yards against the Crimson Tide in the BCS National Championship Game.
That’s the performance Kelly wants on a regular basis. It appears he’ll drag Daniels along until he figures out how to deliver it.
“Just hit him over the head with a stick every day,” Kelly said. “I mean, really, this is just a matter of him deciding he's going to do it. He's capable of doing it. He wants to do it. We have to show him how to do it. He knows he's the guy in the mix.
“Sometimes it's a matter of maturation.He understands what we want from him because we think he can be great. But he's got to move his game up to get there. That's a process we're working on with him. We've seen some good early signs. I would be surprised if he didn't have a great spring.”
Notre Dame needs that as the offense replaces Tyler Eifert and Theo Riddick. It’s also searching for the next Michael Floyd considering the receivers produced just seven touchdown receptions last season.
“We all came into this together knowing that Eifert was leaving and somebody, maybe all of us, had to step up,” Daniels said. “We all work out together. That was our main focus in the weight room and coming into the spring.
“Whoever that guy is, I’m sure he’ll make plays.”
Getting through spring practice healthy would be a step in the right direction. Daniels suffered a high ankle sprain against Purdue last September that lingered for nearly a month. In the five games following that injury, he posted a combined eight catches for 112 yards.
Then came the breakout against Pittsburgh of seven catches for 86 yards, including a bomb from Everett Golson that helped spark the comeback. But a week later Daniels broke his collarbone at Boston College and missed the regular season’s final two games.
“Injuries kind of hurt me a lot,” Daniels said. “I had a lot on my mind.”
Before spring practice started Daniels sat down with receivers coach Mike Denbrock to make sure he was clear under the helmet. They set expectations as the receiver looks to jump from a player who shows flashes of talent to one who’s shining every day.
“I definitely realize it. I had some setbacks last year,” Daniels said. “I definitely think that I’ve gotten there. I’m working real hard. That’s my main focus.
“I think just as a young guy, first year playing, I think that’s the thing you have to get over. There’s so much on your mind, you really don’t want to make a mistakes, you want to do everything perfect. You kind of over think things. I think that played a big part.
“That’s something that (the coaches) look for out of me. That’s what they’ve been telling me since I got here. I definitely think I’ve reached that point of trying to do it every day.”