The senior brings the most experience on and off the field. So far Daniels’ biggest impact has been in the huddle and on the sideline as a vocal leader.
Three years after the departure of the most acclaimed tight end in Huskies history, Washington is still seeking a player to fill the tremendous void created when Austin Seferian-Jenkins left a year early for the NFL.
The past two seasons they relied on Joshua Perkins and Darrell Daniels, who combined for season averages of 45.5 receptions and 638 yards. They nearly equaled Seferian-Jenkins’ average (48.7 catches and 613 yards) during his three-year career (2011-13).
Now Perkins, an undrafted free agent with the Atlanta Falcons, is gone, and Daniels remains as Washington’s most experienced tight end and one of two seniors projected to start on offense.
“We’re going to keep moving forward,” Daniels said. “We got a young tight end in Drew Sample and other guys like David Ajamu, Will Dissly and Jeff Lindquist. We’re going to go out there and do what we have to do. We miss Perk, but there’s definitely no loss at all.
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“We all have our own little traits and talents, but as a unit we just try to focus on being better each day.”
At 6 feet 4 and 246 pounds, Daniels is an intriguing NFL prospect. He’s arguably the most high-profile athlete in recent years from Pittsburg, Calif., a small industrial town about 40 miles northeast of San Francisco.
Daniels was a standout receiver at Freedom High where he caught 54 passes for 947 yards and 20 touchdowns during his senior year.
He converted to tight end as a freshman in 2013 and last season finished with 19 receptions, 250 yards and a touchdown.
“He was a big receiver and things like route concepts and spacing, he does that naturally well,” UW tight-ends coach Jordan Paopao said. “His posture in run blocks, his posture in pass protection and his assignments, that’s where he’s truly grown the most and I’m really excited to see that all culminate together.”
So far, Daniels’ biggest impact has been in the huddle and on the sideline as a vocal leader. During training-camp interviews, he redirected inquiries about his game and talked effusively about the Huskies.
“We brought him down to (Pac-12) Media Days because he’s a good representation of our offense in what we stand for and what we’re trying to achieve,” Paopao said. “I just see him growing as an all-around guy. Being on the field as much as possible.”
But tight ends are being pushed off the field in the ever-changing landscape of college football because of the rapid expansion of the spread offense, which favors multiple-receiver formations.
It’s rare these days when a tight end catches 69 passes for 852 yards like Seferian-Jenkins did in 2012.
“When we had a tight end like Austin, who was just so physically overwhelming for a lot of defenses, I think you’re definitely going to have that guy on the field and be able to get him to catch 60, 70 or 80 balls a year,” Paopao said. “With our offense right now and just the variety of guys that we have right now, we don’t necessarily need one guy to stay on the field the entire time.
“If one guy rises to the occasion, we’ll keep him there and he’ll get the opportunity. But quite honestly, we have multiple tight-end sets and the ball is going to be dispersed.”
The Huskies remain one of the few Pac-12 teams that regularly rely on two (and sometimes three) tight ends in the offense. That’s good news for Daniels, who figures to be an option in the passing game.
Meanwhile, Sample,a 6-5, 260-pound bulldozer, is a bonafide run blocker.
“In our room we have a lot of guys that can do a lot of different things,” he said. “Everyone kind of does a little bit of everything and the coaches do a really good job of putting us in positions where we’ll be successful.”
Last season, UW tight ends combined for 834 receiving yards, which accounted for 26.8 percent of the passing game.
“Last year, we had really good flashes and during camp we’ve been taking steps to be more consistent,” said Sample, who had 45 receiving yards last year. “We’re continuing to grow.”