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Matt Daniels Bringing Exuberance, Valuable Experience to Special Teams

EAGAN, Minn. — Special teams provided Matt Daniels with his way to an NFL field.

Now, they are his way of life.

The 32-year-old who was announced a week ago as Minnesota's new special teams coordinator plans to instill his enthusiasm for the phase of the game into Vikings players.

Head Coach Kevin O'Connell, 36, opted for the undeniable exuberance to work with units that often have some of the youngest players on the roster.

Daniels told Twin Cities media members last week a little about his interview with O'Connell during which the first-time head coach said, "It's easy for me to make a decision to hire a guy with experience. But that's not what I'm after. I'm after an up-and-coming guy."

"For him to have that belief in me, him to have trust in me, it says a lot," Daniels said. "I can't thank him enough for it."  

Daniels played in seven NFL games after joining the St. Louis Rams in 2012 as an undrafted free agent out of Duke University. Six of those contests were for John Fassel, who has been a special teams coordinator since 2008-11 with the Raiders. Fassel spent the next eight seasons with the Rams before joining the Cowboys in 2020.

Daniels became Fassel's assistant with the Rams in 2018 and accompanied him to Dallas, providing Daniels with a four-year degree from a "special teams university" with Fassel — who is nicknamed "Bones" — as the professor. 

"Being able to play for Bones for three years and work with him collaboratively for four years, it has really propelled me and given me the opportunity to be in this position that I'm in," Daniels said. "I can't say enough about what Bones has done for me in my career, what he has taught me, the process that I've gone through in order for me to get here. He truly is the reason why I'm here and why I have so much confidence in my ability to truly have an impact on the special teams unit this year."

When O'Connell introduced Daniels to media members last week, he explained, "When I close my eyes and I think about special teams, I think about a group with energy, enthusiasm, detail. Guys that can follow the lead of our coordinator to go out and execute plans each and every week."

O'Connell said "countless people" recommended Daniels, saying, "This is your guy. All you've got to do is spend a little time talking with him and you'll know."

"And I really knew very quickly that Matt Daniels was a guy that I wanted to hire as our special teams coordinator," O'Connell confirmed.

Journalist Rick Gosselin, who has compiled extensive special teams rankings for 43 years, ranked Dallas sixth overall in 2021 based on a points system in 22 different categories thanks to leading the league in net punting (44.6 yards) and blocked kicks (five), as well as tying for the NFL lead with 18 points on three touchdowns.

Daniels said he wants the special teams units to be "situational masters."

"Truly understanding the game, the rules of the game. Most important, the opponent," Daniels said. "At the end of the day, football is a matchup basis – especially from a special teams standpoint. There's 1-on-1 matchups, so we talk a lot about matchups, who you're up against, understanding truly who your opponent is, what his weaknesses are, how can we attack them?"

Daniels said he wants players to react rather than think during the course of plays so they can play as fast as possible.

"We're going to react to anything and everything that might come at us, and we're going to have true and full understanding of what that looks like and how we're going to be able to attack them," Daniels said.

Thoughts on the Vikings roster

"I think we have a great group of guys just [from] looking at what they did last year," Daniels said. "A high-energy group. You can see them out there, a well-connected group, and I'm going to come in and my responsibility is to put these guys in the best position to make plays.

"We're going to be a team that's going to have a simple approach but an aggressive mindset," Daniels said. "We're always going to be on the attack. … My job is to teach, demand and develop, and that's exactly what I'm going to do."

Daniels was asked directly about Kene Nwangwu, who became the first player in NFL history with two kickoff return touchdowns in his first five career games, and said the 2021 fourth-round pick was "probably one of the first people I called when I got here."

"Extremely excited about him, what he has to offer as a returner," Daniels said. "I see him as being an elite returner in this league. A guy who's very dangerous with the football. He's a one-cut runner, a high cut, he's got that home-run speed. He's got that ability to break tackles, he has great feet – being able to get in and out of cuts – you see the explosion, you see the ball security, but most importantly, you see the decision-making that he has back there. There's just a trust, and there's a confidence he has when the ball is in his hand."

Daniels also was asked about punter Jordan Berry and kicker Greg Joseph. Berry was added just before the 2021 regular season on a one-year deal, and Joseph is an exclusive rights free agent after kicking seven field goals of 50-plus yards in his debut campaign with Minnesota.

"It's too early to say right now. We're going through the evaluation process," Daniels said. "You look at a guy like Jordan Berry who's been doing it for a long time, he's got a lot of leg talent. He's had a lot of success in his career. Greg Joseph, as well. So you know, it's a little too early for us to really say what that's going to look like, but I think they've done a lot in their career to say that they deserve to be on this team."