LAWRENCE — The jury remains out on Kansas football quarterback Jalon Daniels.
If nothing else, though, the 17-year-old true freshman has already made a believer out of at least one Jayhawk teammate.
"I remember one time in practice I tried to pick him off and it went right through my hands," recalled junior linebacker Jay Dineen. "So he’s got a cannon."
Whether KU fans will again witness that cannon this season is to-be-determined.
Highlights were hard to come by for Daniels in his first career start Saturday, a 47-14 defeat at Baylor. The former three-star recruit finished 19-for-33 passing for 159 yards and contributed 14 carries for 23 yards — Daniels was sacked four times, including once for a safety.
While he led KU on a scoring drive on its first possession, Daniels couldn’t secure his first career passing touchdown, though he came close twice in the first quarter — the quarterback overthrew an open Andrew Parchment on what would’ve been a 54-yard scoring strike, and later, sophomore running back Velton Gardner dropped a sideline reception that could’ve turned into a 33-yard touchdown.
And although Daniels had no turnovers, that too could’ve been a different story — he twice fumbled balls that were eventually recovered by the Jayhawks (0-2, 0-1 Big 12), and Baylor defenders dropped a couple of would-be interceptions.
Les Miles said Daniels’ struggles "will turn into the opportunity for him to get better and better."
"I think at times that he pulled the ball down and gave himself some room to make a down-the-field throw. If we’d have hit a couple of those downfield throws they would’ve made a tremendous difference," Miles said. "But he didn’t, so I think (there is) the opportunity for him to put himself in a position to make some of those plays that we’ve seen at our indoors (practice) facility and not necessarily in the stadium, and see how that all comes together.
"Here’s what he has: He’s got leadership, he is one of the team favorites, and I just think we’re on the right path with him, not only with what would be this Saturday but as we go forward. I think what his future will be here, he will be very valuable."
That said, Miles wasn’t ready after the Baylor defeat to commit to starting Daniels in the team’s next contest, a 2:30 p.m. Saturday home matchup against No. 17 Oklahoma State (2-0, 1-0). The second-year head coach reiterated that stance Monday.
KU’s latest depth chart listed three quarterbacks — Daniels, senior Thomas MacVittie and junior Miles Kendrick — as options to start against the Cowboys. MacVittie, who started the team’s opener against Coastal Carolina and split time with Kendrick before leaving with an injury, wasn’t available against the Bears but is expected to practice this week, Miles said.
If MacVittie is healthy, would Miles consider deploying both him and Daniels?
"After a good practice week and something that benefited him, absolutely," responded Miles, who on Saturday also said Kendrick "might" receive another opportunity.
Despite Daniels’ first-game struggles, a handful of teammates joined Dineen in praising aspects of the 6-foot, 200-pounder's showing.
"Jalon’s going to be special, I’m saying it right now. Jalon’s going to be really good," said senior offensive lineman Chris Hughes. "He did a great job this weekend just commanding the huddle. Great energy, great focus. Just, that kid’s level to improve is outstanding. …
"He handled it as well as I’ve seen anybody do it. We have a lot of great quarterbacks in that room, but I have no doubt when he steps on the field that he knows what he’s doing or anything like that. He did a great job. … I wouldn’t be happier to block for anybody else."
Parchment, whose own three-catch, 14-yard output against Baylor could’ve looked far different with improved quarterback play, nevertheless came away from that contest with a new level of respect for Daniels, who at the very least showcased his ability to take a pummeling.
"I even walked over to him, laughed a little bit and just asked him to make sure he was all right after a big hit," Parchment recalled. "He said, ‘Hell yeah, I’m good.’ That was fun to see."
While he’s only known Daniels for a few months, Parchment has observed a player who exudes positivity, always smiling and laughing in the Jayhawk locker room. That attitude, the senior wide receiver indicated, can be uplifting amid on-field struggles.
"I saw a lot of leadership (Saturday)," Parchment said. "I saw a kid competing no matter how good the situation or how bad the situation was. He was getting hit a lot and just kept getting up. That right there shows you a lot about his toughness for a 17-year-old starting his first game. …
"He could’ve easily thrown in the towel and just said, ‘I’m not ready coach. Put Miles (Kendrick) in.’ He just kept competing. For him, it’s going to take games, you know what I mean? It’s only his first Big 12 game. I know what I would’ve been doing if I was in that situation and it would’ve been a lot worse, you know what I’m saying? For him it’s just, keep getting back to work, watch the film. The sky is the limit for him. He’s just going to keep getting better."