James Daniels switched positions in the offseason, but the Bears' starting center still holds one distinction from 2018.
He is still the team's youngest starter.
A month away from his 22nd birthday, the 2018 second-round pick has added a new slate of responsibilities: snapping the ball, communicating to his fellow linemen, calling out blocking assignments He will be the center of focus, and that doesn't intimidate him.
"I really don't think about it," said Daniels. "Because when you're out there, it doesn't matter how old you are. When you're out there, you're out there."
Despite spending his last two years at Iowa at the position, the Bears coaching staff decided against pairing a rookie center with a second-year quarterback. Instead, the team stuck with Cody Whitehair, who was initially drafted as a guard in 2016.
Daniels proved himself a capable guard after taking over for Eric Kush after the first week of Daniels’ rookie season. Now, the Bears have moved Whitehair, who had developed into a Pro Bowl center, to the guard position and moved Daniels into his place. Daniels credits Whitehair, along with the other veteran linemen, with easing his transition.
"Everyone on the offense has been helping me," said Daniels. "Either if it's a call or look. Different things like that."
Offensive line coach Harry Hiestand has been impressed with the results so far. Aside from Daniels' well-regarded speed and athleticism for the position, it has been his work ethic that has stood out.
"He comes out here to compete every day," said Hiestand. "I'm seeing what I expected to see from him. He's just working on his craft."
Hiestand says that Daniels' familiarity with the position has been a marked advantage compared to Whitehair's transition in 2016 under the previous coaching staff.
"It's always a progression," said Hiestand, "but he's off on a good track. It's been fairly seamless. His snaps have been consistent."
Practicing in helmets and shells Tuesday morning, Daniels took advantage of the lack of contact to work on the finer points of his game. On the lighter side for an interior lineman at 295, Daniels relies on superior technique.
"We know that we're not going to be able to come off and hit each other full-speed," said Daniels. "But, we can get our fits right, our steps right, our hands right. So we might not hit each other, but we can still fit in and know that if we had pads that we'd be all right."
Hiestand sees Daniels as a student of the game. The coach did not hold back his praise of his new center.
"I love his demeanor, his attitude about getting better," said Hiestand. "Takes one thing at a time. No panic. We've got issues and different techniques, and we just work through them. He's very, very focused on improving and I love that. He doesn't want to repeat the same errors. When you get that mindset, you're going to progress a little faster, and that what he's done."
As most players Daniels' age are preparing for their junior or senior years of college, it's safe to say progressing a little faster is just a part of what makes James Daniels who he is.
The Bears practiced under cloudy skies Tuesday in the final full practice before the first preseason game of 2019.