Allen Park — Both 30 years old and entering their first full seasons as the anchors of the Lions defensive line, Mike Daniels and Damon Harrison are finally practicing together this week.
The eighth-year pros go way back, with Daniels telling reporters Wednesday that he met Harrison about a decade ago while both led interior collegiate lines in Iowa: Daniels in the Big Ten with Iowa and Harrison with the NAIA’s William Penn.
Daniels was introduced to the big-framed, small-school Harrison — who was dominating 90 miles southeast of Iowa City in Oskaloosa — by teammate Tyler Sash, a former Iowa strong safety who grew up in the small town.
“Tyler told me, ‘He’s pretty tough, we could probably bring him in and he could take your job,’ ” Daniels recalled of his friend Sash. “I just knew him as that really big guy with dreads because he’s always been a really big dude.
“But if you knew football, you knew he could play some ball. Clearly he’s shown that.”
Ready to show what he can do together with Harrison, the former Green Bay Pro Bowl defensive tackle practiced Monday in pads for the first time since signing with the Lions. During camp, Daniels had been working on the side, mending a foot injury that forced him to miss the final six games for Green Bay last season.
Daniels was a surprise cut last month by the Packers right before training camp.
Upon signing with Detroit, he spoke glowingly about Matt Patricia, saying playing for Detroit's “genius” head coach was among the reasons he signed with Green Bay’s NFC North rivals.
With Harrison activated last week from the non-football Injury list last week and Daniels cleared for full practices this week, both have been on the practice field as the team gears up for Friday’s home preseason game against Buffalo.
Along with the addition of defensive end Trey Flowers from New England and other holdovers A’Shawn Robinson, Da’Shawn Hand and Romeo Okwara, the unit is the lifeblood for optimistic hopes of a strong defense in Detroit.
“I really like our group a lot — I like our room a whole lot,” Daniels said. “Everybody has the right attitude around here and I don’t foresee the chemistry being an issue. I think we can just step out there together because of how everyone gets along personally. We all just have a similar mentality.”
In 10 games with the Lions following a midseason trade last year, Harrison had 3 1/2 sacks and 50 tackles, leading a resurgent line that finished the year strong.
Harrison is the guy Daniels has known the longest in the Lions locker room, introduced by their mutual friend Sash, who died in 2015 at 27 years old. A Super Bowl champion with the Giants as a rookie, Sash suffered multiple concussions during his playing days, which included two seasons with the Giants before Harrison arrived in 2016. Sash died after taking a fatal mixture of drugs a few days after reportedly falling from a ladder at his Oskaloosa home a few days prior.
After taking his time on his own recovery, Sash’s former Iowa teammate is back on the practice field alongside his other old college friend, ready to hit the ground running together.
“There’s no easing into anything with this game,” Daniels said. “Football is a very tough sport with tough people. Everything about it is going to be hard.
“It’s all in God’s hands. He’s brought me this far and he ain’t going to leave me. I firmly believe that my faith has carried me all the way through and that’s not going to change.”
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.