Chase Daniel remembers the first regular-season start of his professional career fondly, even though a couple of things stick in his craw.
The first thing is that while he played reasonably well — completing 21 of 30 passes for 200 yards and a touchdown against a playoff-bound San Diego team last December — the Chiefs still lost a nail-biter 27-24.
The second thing he remembers is his very first throw, an ill-advised pass he threw directly to linebacker Donald Butler, who would have scored easily had he not dropped the ball.
“It was a screen and I tried to throw a stick route, a hot route, and it almost got picked off,” Daniel said. “But it didn’t, and the next play we hit a 50-yard bomb to A.J. (Jenkins).
“That’s sort of how this league goes. You’ve got to have a next play-mentality, and that’s something that I learned in that game.”
Daniel, who is listed at 6 feet and 225 pounds, isn’t the only person who learned something from that game. More important, Chiefs coaches finally got to see that Daniel — who had completed only 11 of 17 passes for 103 yards in five professional seasons prior to that start — was capable of holding his own in a real game.
Theoretically, this should benefit Daniel, who is engaged in a fierce battle for the Chiefs’ No. 2 quarterback job with Tyler Bray and Aaron Murray.
“He needs to keep being Chase Daniel,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said, “(just) keep being himself and playing the way he plays. He’s a competitive guy, and he makes plays. He did play well in the San Diego game.”
Daniel said his performance against the Chargers has been a boon for his confidence, which can’t hurt as he tries to hold off two talented youngsters for a roster spot.
“It’s given me a lot of confidence,” Daniel said. “I’ve known I could go out there and do it. I prepared the best I possibly could to put myself in that situation and to go out there and play well, and have the team say I played well, it was a good feeling.
“It’s something where you get an itch and you want to do it more.”
Daniel, who studied behind New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees for three years before he joined the Chiefs, hopes his professionalism and smarts will help establish him as the team’s best option, should anything befall starter Alex Smith.
“I think just the intangibles, the ‘it’ factor, the leadership,” Daniel said, when asked what he brings to the table. “Go out there and be a veteran presence on the field. I am just focused on myself, getting better every single day. My job is to go out there and push Alex and make him the best quarterback he possibly can be.”
Daniel is one of three players who are trying to do just that, though they have varying skill sets. Bray has a big arm but must show in the preseason that he can be a reliable NFL backup. Murray possesses many of the same skills as Daniel but is also a rookie fifth-round pick, so he might need more time to get acclimated.
“I know Tyler (Bray) and Aaron (Murray) are coming after me,” Daniel said. “I know I am going after Alex. We are all pushing each other to get better. I think coach Reid would even say the same, as competition brings out the best in any position.”
One thing Daniel has going in his favor, however, is that he has already shown what he can do when the bullets start flying.
“There’s no part of the offense that you hold back (for Daniel),” Reid said. “He gets it all, just like Alex has. He can make all the throws and he’s a good football player.”
At least some of that evaluation is based on what Reid saw from Daniel against San Diego, a game Daniel watched on tape as recently as last week.
When asked if he ever wonders how that game would have turned out if that first throw had been picked and housed like it should have been, Daniel just shook his head, chuckled and spouted a truth that also sums up his ongoing battle with Bray and Murray.
“I don’t,” Daniel said, “because it didn’t. This league is about ‘What have you done for me lately? Can you move on? Can you do this or that on the next play?’
“It could have been a pick and it wasn’t. Literally the next play the coach called a freaking go route to A.J. And it was rolling from there.”