Kansas football spent part of spring trying to make QB Jalon Daniels ‘bulletproof’

photo by: Chance Parker/Journal-World photo

Kansas junior Jalon Daniels practices at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium on Thursday, March 30, 2023.

One of the things that made Kansas quarterback Jalon Daniels so effective last season was his ability to take off and run.

That also made him vulnerable.

With that in mind, and with Daniels still building strength after the shoulder injury that forced him to miss four games a season ago, KU strength coach Matt Gildersleeve crafted a very focused plan for the junior quarterback’s offseason.

His message to Daniels was simple.

“We want to get you foundationally in a really good place and then we’re going to make you frickin’ bulletproof,” Gildersleeve told Daniels this spring. “We’re in that process now.”

Daniels liked the sound of that. Asked recently what the phrase meant to him, Daniels smiled and thought back to the end of last season and some of the unnecessary contact he took before that.

“Looking back at film, there’s a lot of hits that I took at the beginning of the year that I never really realized I was taking,” Daniels said. “When I came back from my injury, you could kind of see the difference in my playing styles. How I played toward the end of the year is better for my health.”

Daniels’ recovery and transition to his new approach kept him somewhat limited through the first week or two of spring practices. But by the end of the spring, KU coach Lance Leipold said Daniels was making all of the throws he made last August and September and that their expectations for his upcoming season were huge.

Armed with added strength, a slightly smarter sense of self preservation and the confidence of a thousand men, Daniels believes that the steps he has taken in recent months were the first in preparing for life beyond college football.

“I feel good,” Daniels said. “This will give me the ability to play smarter rather than trying to do too much.”

KU offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki likes the sound of that, even if he also has been a fan of watching Daniels make plays that others can’t or that aren’t even there to be made.

Still, as the guy who calls the plays and comes up with the game plan for the offense each week, Kotelnicki won’t mind moving forward with the belief that he and Daniels, along with KU’s offensive line, now share the responsibility of keeping the quarterback healthy.

“It’s always top of mind, right? The health of the quarterback in what you do,” Kotelnicki said this spring. “There’s a pitch count, if you will, in hits that people should be taking. And you want to make sure he’s not getting touched.”

To do that, Kotelnicki has to make sure he calls plays that put Daniels in the best position — limit the designed runs, shore up the protection, get the ball out quickly, etc. — and Daniels has to do the rest.

Included on that checklist is answering questions like what hits can I avoid when I do take off and run, can I get down or go out of bounds a little earlier and is hanging in there that extra second really worth it on this snap?

“It’s kind of evaluating in his mind if it’s worth the extra yard or two,” Kotelnicki said. “He won’t say this, but he’ll do what’s best for the football team.”

While taking care of Daniels this offseason and preparing him to handle more on the field in the fall were huge priorities for the program, the Jayhawks all agreed that taking away Daniels’ competitive fire and play-making spirit was not something any of them were interested in doing.

“I’ve said this a million times, I’ll say it a million more: Our players are our system,” Kotelnicki said. “What are they good at? Those are the things we should be doing. Jalon is an excellent athlete. He should do athletic things.”


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