Beginning his Bears career at guard after starting at center the past two seasons at Iowa, second-round pick James Daniels expects to make a smooth transition.
"My true freshman year at Iowa I played all guard," Daniels said this weekend at Bears rookie minicamp. "It's hard, but you don't have to make the calls and you don't have to snap, which are two things that centers do that people don't realize how hard it is. I'm not saying it's easier, it's just different from playing center."
With third-year pro Cody Whitehair entrenched at center, Daniels is expected to compete for the starting left guard position. The Bears feel confident in moving him to guard in part because of the presence of offensive line coach Harry Hiestand.
One of the most highly-respected line coaches in the country, Hiestand is back for a second stint with the Bears after spending the past six seasons at Notre Dame. He coached the Bears offensive line on Lovie Smith's staff from 2005-09, helping center Olin Kreutz and guard Ruben Brown reach the Pro Bowl.
Offensive lineman James Daniels takes part in a drill during rookie minicamp.
"He's very detailed-oriented when he's coaching stuff, and I really appreciate that," Daniels said. "When we were doing drills and individual, he actually takes time to talk about each individual drill and why hold your hands this certain way or why your feet are this way. I really appreciate with how detailed he was in every single drill we did."
Daniels, who won't turn 21 until September, doesn't feel like there's much difference between playing center and guard. Two subtle adjustments he must make are putting his left hand on the ground instead of his right hand and occasionally having more space to contend with when kicking outside to pass block.
Coach Matt Nagy was pleased with how Daniels performed at rookie minicamp.
"He's doing well," Nagy said. "When you see him in the huddle when we're calling plays, he's very focused. You can see right now he's listening to the plays, he's trying to understand it. He's just so entrenched into what's going on. He's into the details.
"When you have that, you're at an advantage as a staff because he's going to listen. He's going to be a sponge and soak everything up so he can develop."
While Daniels is beginning his Bears career at guard, he will also take reps at center. With only 46 players active on game day, reserve offensive linemen must be able to step in at multiple positions.
Daniels currently weighs 310 pounds and hasn't been told whether the Bears want him to gain or lose weight.
"I feel good now, but if the coaches want me bigger, I can get bigger," Daniels said. "If they want me smaller, I can get smaller."
Daniels may not be a typical NFL "road-grader" as a guard, but he certainly possesses enough positive traits to excel at the position.
"He is a little more finesse and a little more of a technician at his spot," Nagy said. "But that doesn't mean that he doesn't have that in him. There's evidence on tape that he plays that way. You like to have that nasty in the o-line guys and he's got it. He's a nice kid, but when he plays on the football field, he plays hard.
"You can also see that he's only going to get stronger. The kid is 20 years old, so he's got a lot of room to grow and [strength and conditioning coach] Jason Loscalzo and his staff will do a great job of getting him stronger. There's a plan for each and every one of our players and for him at such a young age, it's exciting to know that he will have a lot of growth."