Matt Barrows

49ers rookie makes a case for backup QB job

Published: Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013 - 11:48 am

SANTA CLARA – Alabama, Michigan and his hometown university, Florida State, were among the schools circling B.J. Daniels when he was a high school star in Tallahassee.

Some of them recruited him for the nebulous position of "athlete," which is code for "you'll probably end up playing defensive back." Others didn't want him dabbling in basketball.

Only South Florida told him he could play guard in the winter and spring – he once scored 45 points in a basketball game as a high school senior – and quarterback in the summer and fall.

"I've been playing quarterback all my life," Daniels said. "So that's what I've always considered myself to be."

The 49ers see it that way, too, although they were a bit slow to come around.

After they drafted him in the seventh round this year, the 49ers gave him a quarterback's number – No. 5 – but also played him at tailback, wide receiver and punt returner.

A standout performance Aug. 16 in Kansas City, coupled with tepid outings by the team's other backups, Colt McCoy and Scott Tolzien, prompted the 49ers to eliminate Daniels' side jobs and throw him in the mix to be Colin Kaepernick's understudy this season.

Daniels completed 6 of 9 passes for 72 yards against the Chiefs, and he's thrown the 49ers' only touchdown of the preseason so far, a 14-yarder to fellow rookie Chuck Jacobs. Daniels promises to be one of the five 49ers quarterbacks who play today against Minnesota.

The team's linebackers coach, Jim Leavitt, never needed much convincing that Daniels could run a huddle.

In 2007, when Leavitt was South Florida's head coach, he made the four-hour trip up Interstate 75 to watch Daniels, then a junior at Tallahassee's Lincoln High, play basketball and to watch him in the school's spring football game.

Daniels is a half-inch under 5-11, which is why the bigger schools projected him as a cornerback or a tailback. Leavitt, however, saw him as someone similar to South Florida's recent passers, Marquel Blackwell and Matt Grothe, both of whom are 5-11.

"He was a leader," Leavitt said of Daniels. "He was confident and he played with confidence. He could run, he was a great athlete and he could throw the ball."

Daniels saw the fit as well and committed to the Bulls.

The plan was to take Daniels along slowly as a redshirt freshman, to watch Grothe – who, entering his senior season, had started 38 straight games – and for him to get a full understanding of the offense before taking over the starting job.

But Grothe tore his ACL in South Florida's third game that year.

Leavitt turned to Daniels: The good news is that you're starting, he told the 18-year-old. The bad news …

"Our next game was against Florida State," Leavitt said. "And they had just pounded BYU, and BYU was ranked. Florida State was 18th in the country, there's 84,000 people in there and it's as hot as can be."

Daniels didn't need to be told how imposing Doak Campbell Stadium could be.

He grew up doing the Tomahawk Chop from the stands while rooting for players like current 49ers teammate Anquan Boldin. In fact, Daniels lived on the school's campus for seven years while his father worked as a dormitory director.

The game against South Florida – the first-ever meeting between the schools – was a "white-out" game, meaning the fans all wore white. The hometown kid was facing an avalanche of Florida State backers, and he was wearing enemy colors.

"I remember warming up on the field and looking up at the seats where I used to sit," Daniels said.

He ruined the party shortly after it began.

Daniels threw an 8-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter to put the Bulls ahead 7-0. They never trailed. Daniels finished with 126 rushing yards, threw two TD passes – including a 73-yarder – and accounted for 341 of South Florida's 368 yards of offense in the 17-7 win.

The opposing passer that day – Christian Ponder, who will start today's game for the Vikings.

"I can't compare it to a whole lot," said Daniels, who went 5-5 as a starter that season. "That was probably the most memorable game of my career."

49ERS TO WATCH

The Bee's Matthew Barrows highlights six players to watch today against the Minnesota Vikings:

No. 2, Colt McCoy, QB

Aside from Colin Kaepernick, none of the 49ers quarterbacks should feel secure. But perhaps McCoy is in the most danger. He completed just six passes in the first two games and has two interceptions. He'll be the second quarterback to enter the game, but newcomer Seneca Wallace (No. 18), Scott Tolzien (No. 3) and B.J. Daniels (No. 5) all are gunning for his job. Another bad game and McCoy will be cut this week.

No. 84, Jon Baldwin, WR

The 49ers want to get Baldwin up to speed as quickly as possible, so he should see a significant number of snaps. With one catch, he will have the same number of preseason receptions as his predecessor, A.J. Jenkins.

No. 6, Austin Collie, WR

The 49ers will keep either five or six wide receivers on the 53-man roster. If it's five, Collie may be out. He's entered late in the last two games with the reserves. An earlier entrance might signify that Collie has risen in the ranks since the last game.

No. 35, Eric Reid, S

The 49ers' first-round draft pick likely will make his first start against the Vikings. He's been good in practice and smart in games, and he's on track to being on the field when Aaron Rodgers and the Packers come to town Sept. 8. Only a big mistake or two can throw him off track now.

No. 24, Nnamdi Asomugha, CB

He's close to securing the role of No. 3 cornerback. He's coming off a good game against the Chiefs and could win it with another strong performance. The third cornerback – Chris Culliver's job the last two years – typically doesn't start but plays 70 percent of the defensive snaps.

No. 57, Michael Wilhoite, ILB

He has a firm hold on a roster spot. But this game is important because of who likely will line up opposite him – Adrian Peterson in his first game of the preseason. Wilhoite said he'd love to test himself against the Pro Bowl running back.

Read Matthew Barrows' blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers and listen for his reports Tuesdays on ESPN Radio 1320. Follow him on Twitter @mattbarrows.

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