'He's got a swagger to him': QB Jayden Daniels makes strong first impression on Commanders

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ASHBURN, Va. – Nick Allegretti arrived at the Washington Commanders’ facility around 6:30 a.m. and descended a staircase toward the team’s locker room. Passing by him was the team’s rookie quarterback, barely a month on the job.

“You start to doubt yourself a little bit,” said Allegretti, an offensive lineman who won three Super Bowls with the Kansas City Chiefs from 2019-23 before signing with Washington this offseason. “You think you’re one of the early guys, and it looked like he’d been here for a minute. He’s bright-eyed. I’m dragging in here.”

Going forward, Allegretti said, he might start showing up at 6 a.m. But Jayden Daniels would still beat him.

“I get here around 5:45 a.m.,” Daniels said.

Showing up early is one way Daniels has impressed his new teammates and coaches – and why the No. 2 overall pick is on the fast track to start Week 1 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“The work that you put in is the work that you're going to give out,” Daniels said. “If you really want to really want to be successful, you want to learn, you want to be a pro at the highest level, you got to take knowledge of people, learn from their routines. What helps them be successful?”

Washington Commanders quarterback Jayden Daniels (5) gestures during OTA workouts at Commanders Park.
Washington Commanders quarterback Jayden Daniels (5) gestures during OTA workouts at Commanders Park.

Jayden Daniels' 'high football IQ,' 'swagger' help him conquer NFL playbook

Sun barely above the horizon, Daniels treks across a parking lot from the locker room to the bubble for a morning walk-through with rookie receiver and third-round pick Luke McCaffrey. Starting early was a habit he picked up at LSU. In his second season with the Tigers, Daniels won the 2023 Heisman Trophy and cemented himself as a potential franchise quarterback for teams at the top of this April's draft – a reality first-year Washington general manager Adam Peters and head coach Dan Quinn would immediately sign up for.

The amount of work Daniels has done in a short amount of time was obvious to the rest of the team, Quinn said.

“You can see how hard he worked to get the system down and in place,” Quinn said during OTAs.

Quinn added: “He's got this demeanor about the execution, about the confidence. He's got a swagger to him.”

Marcus Mariota, who is serving the dual purpose of competing with Daniels and being a veteran presence in the quarterback room, said that early mastery of offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury’s system will go a long way in signaling to the team – especially older players – that he’s in control.

“Nail it and say, ‘I got this, I got it figured out,’” Mariota said. “So I think he's done a great job of that. And we just got to continue to help him grow and develop, and I think at the end of the day, when we are all competing in that room, it makes every one of us better.”

Everything Kingsbury and the Commanders’ staff heard about Daniels during their scouting ahead of the draft indicated he was an “intentional” prospect. That has helped in trying to install the new offense with Daniels.

Daniels referred to a NFL playbook as “an encyclopedia.” But Kingsbury said Daniels has a unique grasp on protections, which is rare for a rookie.

“His football IQ is really high,” Kingsbury said.

Starting a motion, escaping a broken play and noting corrections to other players are signs of full command of the offense, according to Quinn.

“Not just what your responsibility is here,” Quinn said, “but what the others are.”

It also helps that Daniels is starting on the same footing as the rest of the offense.

“This is a bright guy, so like learning the offense, he's on it,” Quinn said, “and quite honestly, it's new for everybody.”

Jayden Daniels responsible for building culture with Washington Commanders

Daniels spent the first three seasons of his college career at Arizona State before transferring to LSU to join Brian Kelly during the Tigers head coach’s first season in 2022. His first season on the Bayou was productive – 28 total touchdowns (11 rushing) in 14 games and a 68.8% completion rate on 7.5 yards per attempt.

The next season, he made those numbers look miniscule by throwing for 3,812 yards (completing 72.2% of his passes) and 40 touchdowns with four interceptions in 12 games. He rushed for 1,134 yards (8.4 yards per carry) with 10 scores.

His growth from season to season at LSU is apparent. But Daniels impressed himself the most with the way he handled the transition from his first stint with the Sun Devils to a different place – and his maturation as a man.

“It helped me grow even more, you know, being out there on my own,” Daniels said. “I wasn't really dependent on family – more so, you know how to figure some stuff out and figure out who I want to be as a person.”

And Daniels hasn’t had much issue showing the Commanders who he is, quarterbacks coach Tavita Pritchard said.

“He’s comfortable in his skin,” Pritchard said. “There’s a calming effect in that.

“He’s easy to be around because he’s confident who he is and he does a great job of bringing people along with that.”

Daniels is aware that as a 23-year-old, he may have to try harder to relate to his veteran teammates and show his leadership chops. He and Pritchard have discussed ways to communicate with receivers and linemen to achieve the best version of their offense, for example.

“I think when you’re genuine and you are who you are and you’re unapologetic about it, I think that goes a long way,” Pritchard said.

After practice, according to wideout and team captain Terry McLaurin, Daniels will approach the receivers and say ,“Hey, ‘Can we get this route?’ or ‘Can we get this rep?’”

“You know they got a lot on their plate,” McLaurin said of working with young quarterbacks, “but there’s that open door of communication.”

The lone holdover from the previous Washington staff, Pritchard first saw Daniels when he was the quarterbacks coach at Stanford and Daniels was at Arizona State. Pritchard’s tape study during the pre-draft process reaffirmed what he remembered.

“He’s just dialed, dicing up defenses with his legs, with his arms, he’s processing, the ball’s coming out – all the things you need to translate to this level were present in his tape,” Pritchard said.

The most important thing the staff identified, though was the culture fit he is in the type of organization the Commanders desire to become.

“We’ve talked about competitiveness. We’ve talked about his love for football,” Pritchard said. “These are things (Quinn) is preaching day in and day out, and it’s been consistent of everyone we’ve brought in.”

And of all the new faces everywhere, Daniels’ is among the first to show up every day.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jayden Daniels making first strong impression on Commanders

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