Danzel McDaniel made an interception last season and scored a touchdown. He also broke up four passes. But the main thing most remember about his first year at Kansas State is the way he tackled.
The senior cornerback unleashed one big hit after another, making highlights out of a punishing backfield hit against UTEP, an 11-yard sack against Iowa State and a forced fumble against Baylor. He went on to earn second-team all-conference honors, with many calling him one of the Big 12’s hardest hitters. Not bad for a guy who had just transferred to K-State from Dodge City Community College.
Still, he didn’t take the hard-hitter label as a compliment.
“I ain’t going to lie, I took it to heart,” McDaniel said Tuesday. “I want to be an all-around corner. I want to be the best corner in the nation, so it is just like when I hear Danzel is the best hitting corner in the nation I be like, I want to be the best all-around corner in the nation. I took that to heart this offseason during conditioning.”
McDaniel made the leap from heralded corner in junior college to productive defender at K-State, but now he wants more. The only way that can happen is by him improving his coverage skills.
“I am not really worried about (hitting) anymore,” McDaniel said. “I want to be able to hit the receiver hard. I want to be able to hit the running back hard. But I want to be able to break up the pass and take the ball from him, too. I am not worried about hitting the receiver hard. I am just worried about making sure he gets no catches.”
There are several steps McDaniel has taken with the help of defensive coordinator Tom Hayes to do that.
For starters, he has spent more time than ever fine-tuning his coverage skills off the line of scrimmage. A year ago, knowing that he could bring down opposing running backs and receivers in the backfield, K-State coaches routinely asked McDaniel to bump receivers and blitz. The plan made sense. That is where he was most effective.
But they also asked him to line up seven yards away from the receiver and backpedal with the intention of covering the deep pass. That is where he got into trouble, allowing quick receivers to get behind him for long catches. More often than not, he held his own. But he knows he could have done better.
“It was a difference coming from junior college, where we play press man all day,” McDaniel said. “We never play off coverage. Last time I played off coverage man was in high school. Basically, it was a challenge for me, because I hadn’t played off a receiver in about three or four years coming out of high school. It was a challenge I am working on this year.”
By all accounts, he has already shown improvement.
“Coming into the spring I felt like he was very confident in that area,” senior safety Dante Barnett said. “He has always been a great cover corner, but him being a physical, hard-hitting corner, people always overlooked his cover skills, I would say. He keeps getting better and better.”
McDaniel said his main areas of emphasis have been his footwork, learning how to backpedal faster, staying low and learning how to make a play on the ball instead of on the player who catches it.
With fellow senior Morgan Burns returning by his side at corner and Barnett backing him up, McDaniel has high hopes for the Wildcats’ secondary. He wants to be the all-around corner that leads the unit.
“I love our secondary,” McDaniel said. “Me and Morgan, we love each other. It is like a brother bond. We connected when we first got here. He was teaching me the system. We are two different corners. People say I am the hitter and he is the speedy guy. We try to help each other out and make each other better.”