Packers’ Muir makes most of opportunity

Packers’ Muir makes most of opportunity

Whatever happens on Friday – and it would certainly appear that he will get good news, not a pink slip – Daniel Muir knows this: Bryson and Brayden can be proud of their dad.

The Green Bay Packers defensive tackle won’t approach Thursday’s preseason finale against Kansas City believing he has a roster spot locked up – not after what he’s been through over the last year and a half while trying to keep his NFL dream alive – but he knows he can live with himself for the approach he took in camp and the way he rediscovered the joy that football can bring.

“I’d be lying to say I don’t think I’ve given it all I’ve got. But I don’t like to think (about being in a) ‘good spot,'” Muir said Tuesday, one day after the Packers had finished trimming the roster to 75 players by releasing, among others, defensive linemen Anthony Hargrove and Jarius Wynn over the past few days

“When those thoughts come into my mind, I shun them away quickly, because I don’t ever want to get comfortable – never, ever get comfortable. I had one immediate goal – to come in and perform extremely well during camp – and I’ll let the coaches and the personnel guys and the media, y’all can be the judge of that. And then, be able to take care of my family, which is my ultimate goal.

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t make plays and didn’t impress some people. But I don’t like to think about that.”

With third-year defensive end Mike Neal headed for a four-game suspension to start the season for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs, it would appear six other defensive linemen will make the team in advance of the Sept. 9 regular-season opener against San Francisco. Barring injury, Ryan Pickett, B.J. Raji, C.J. Wilson and rookie draft picks Jerel Worthy (second round) and Mike Daniels (fourth round) would appear to be locks. That’s five roster spots on a team that normally keeps six defensive linemen for its 3-4 defensive scheme.

That leaves Muir battling another defensive lineman on a reclamation project, ex-Miami Dolphins No. 32 overall pick Phillip Merling, for the final spot. While the 6-foot-5, 315-pound Merling has come on of late and fits the defensive end mold, the 6-foot-2, 322-pound Muir is more of a nose tackle and has had the better camp from start to finish. He’s not only a solid backup option behind B.J. Raji on the nose, but he’s shown a knack for pass-rushing that one might not expect from someone his size – and someone with only a half-sack in 43 career regular-season games.

“Daniel Muir has had a very good camp,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “What you always appreciate about Daniel is his energy level and what he brings to the table every single day. He works extremely hard. Being around him as a younger player and now being around him as a mature player, he’s got a lot of juice. He’s battling and I think he’s doing a nice job.”

Muir entered the league with the Packers in 2007 as an undrafted free agent from Kent State and was one of the pleasant surprises of camp that year. He wound up playing in only three games that year, and while the Packers cut him at the end of training camp in 2008, the Indianapolis Colts gladly snapped him up on waivers.

He played six games for Indianapolis that season before becoming a vital part of the Super Bowl-bound Colts’ defensive line rotation in 2009, when he played in all 19 games (including playoffs) and started 13 of them, finishing with 79 tackles and a half-sack as primarily a run-stuffer. He was solid in 2010 as well, when he had 41 tackles in 15 games (including playoffs).

Then came last season. The lockout ruined any chance he had at an unrestricted free-agent payday, and he wound up getting a one-year, $1.85 million deal from the St. Louis Rams, only to be waived on the final roster reduction.

He caught on for four games with his former team, the Colts, on Oct. 10, but despite 11 tackles in four games (two starts), he was back on the street on Nov. 9 and was out of football until the Packers signed him on March 23 to a bargain-basement one-year, $700,000 deal (the four-year veteran minimum) with no signing bonus.

Muir won’t say much about it, but his second go-round with the Colts was not as enjoyable as the first, as coaches nitpicked his technique – they felt his stance was too wide – and robbed him of the joy he’d felt playing the game in the past.

“What hurt me, really, in the NFL was I let other people take the fun away from the game. As far as just going out and doing what I love to do, I love to play. And I allowed people to take that fun away from me. ultimately, that really hurt me,” Muir said Tuesday. “I won’t spill anybody’s name, that’s not going to do anything positive for me. (But they) always made me second-guess what I was doing.

“Me not playing football last year was never due to production, never due to injury, never due to off-the-field problems – I never got in trouble, or anything like that. That’s what I tormented myself with: ‘Why?’ Everybody who knows me knows I like to work hard and I like to have fun. I joke around with you, but I come to work. I take pride in what I do. So that tormented me for a long time. Why didn’t I get signed? Why am I not playing football? All that tormented me.

“So I decided to take a different approach this year, and I feel like I did. Not saying that old habits didn’t come up, where I could feel myself getting mad or frustrated, because I’m human. But I had to tell myself, ‘Let it go. Just continue to play.’ It’s a work in progress. That’s what every day is. I just came out every day and told myself, ‘Just work hard, man, and have fun.’ And I can truly say I had fun this camp. And I have no regrets at the end of the day. I had a good time playing, just getting back on the field, running around, making plays, being around the guys. That was really it.”

Curiously, Packers defensive line coach Mike Trgovac says Muir has been more than willing to alter his game to fit what the Packers do, so it’s a head-scratcher to think he would’ve ticked off the Colts coaches with his approach.

“First of all, he’s the finest human being. He’s very conscientious; this means a lot to him,” Trgovac said. “He worked very hard to change some of the things he did at Indy that are different than what we do, transitioning from a 4-3 to a 3-4. He’s done very good working hard at the skills and differences in our two defenses.”

Muir, who’ll turn 29 on Sept. 12, also returned to his first NFL team having grown up and learned from past mistakes.

“I see him hungry,’ said Pickett, who watched the youngster closely in 2007. “He had potential when he was here last time, that’s why he was on our team. Now, he’s been around, he knows a lot more. The boy can play. Pass rush, play the run – he’s a good player. (But) he’s so different from when he got here his rookie year. He’s a family man now, he has his kids, his wife – that’s his main focus.

“He’s night-and-day different. He’s a man now. He got in here as a rookie, he learned, and grown, and now he’s taking advantage of his opportunity.”

Perhaps that’s because Muir recognizes it might be his last opportunity to give wife Kristin and the boys – Bryson is 2, while Braydon was born in June – the life he wants for them. He calls the 2007 version of himself “immature” and admits to taking his place on the Packers’ roster “for granted.” That has not been an issue this time around.

“The thing is, people look at me, see that I started in the Super Bowl, and think I was on top of the world. Yeah, it’s a good experience, but every year I’ve been in the NFL, I’ve had to fight for a job,” Muir said. “I’ve never been the guy who got the big contract or was a high draft pick or a (coveted) free agent. Every year, I’ve had to fight for it. I was always a guy on the bubble, regardless of how I played the year before.

“You want to take care of your wife, you want to take care of your kids. That’s really the main motivation. And, wanting to whoop somebody. We play a great spot, and I play a great position. I play a position where I can literally whoop somebody and not get in trouble for it. It’s a great position to play. There’s nothing like it.

“How many people do you think wake up in the morning and get to say, ‘I get to go make great money doing what I love to do?’ I’m one of the few. That’s why I really try to take advantage of it.”