David Kehrli, Correspondent
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Duke Blue Devils head coach David Cutcliffe has molded and mentored numerous great quarterbacks in his more than three decades as a football coach.
Just a redshirt sophomore, coming off a rookie campaign in which he established himself as one of the top returning quarterbacks in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Daniel Jones might one day add his name to a list that includes the likes of Peyton and Eli Manning.
“Well, we’ve been fortunate since we’ve been at Duke, started with Thad Lewis, who’s still an NFL football player,” Cutcliffe said during the 2017 ACC Kickoff at the Westin Charlotte on Friday.
“Daniel is that type of talent. He’s got arm talent. He’s got the ability to beat you in other ways. He is an exceptionally bright young man. All of the things that we’ve seen – guys we’ve had not only at Duke but previous, the reasons they were successful collegiately and on in the NFL – Daniel has a lot of those attributes.”
Jones joins Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson (Louisville) as the only returning ACC quarterbacks to have 2,500+ passing yards, 15+ passing touchdowns, 450+ rushing yards and 5+ rushing touchdowns in 2016.
Much like the Mannings, Jones attributes much of his success to Cutcliffe and his knowledge of the game.
“If you don’t know exactly the Xs and Os of the game, you can get an idea that Coach Cut is as good as it gets with that, and the fundamentals and technical aspect of playing the position, he’s second to none, and that’s a huge advantage for me,” Jones said.
“But as a young quarterback, I’d say more than anything just his support and confidence in me with his background and what he’s done in his career was very helpful for me as a young quarterback and something I’m very appreciative of and was a big part of my progression last year.”
Media and fans across the country are beginning to take notice of Jones’ talent and potential.
Jones was recently named to the watch list for the Maxwell Award, an honor presented by the Maxwell Football Club to the best football player in the country, in addition to being a candidate for multiple quarterback awards.
“A large part of any quarterback’s success is the people around them, and the coaches obviously have a huge impact on that,” Jones said about the hype suggesting he could be first or second-team All-ACC and a future NFL Draft pick.
Much like two-time Super Bowl Champion Eli Manning of the New York Giants, Jones is quiet in his demeanor – something that shouldn’t be mistaken as a lack of confidence or ability.
“You don’t have to be exuberant to be confident,” Cutcliffe said about Jones’ personality.
“Sometimes a quiet confidence is the most deadly confidence you can have against an opponent. I think Daniel knows who he is. I think you’ve got to be a leader at quarterback. I think you at times have to be demonstrative.”
Cutcliffe sees Jones taking over the team as his own after last season’s team was still that of injured quarterback Thomas Sirk.
“I think Daniel is growing in that — when you’re thrust like he was a year ago, and it’s somebody else’s team in reality, and now you’re playing quarterback on that team, he doesn’t feel that way,” Cutcliffe said.
“So I’ve seen a different Daniel. I’ve seen that in our morning runs and him calling on people. I know he went to the Manning Passing Academy and worked as a counselor down there, and I got great feedback from all of the Mannings on his leadership, his coaching ability, and that made me feel good. I expected that, and I’m glad that I heard that.”
Even as a counselor at the Manning Passing Academy, Jones was able to learn little tidbits from Peyton and Eli to help his own game.
“That was kind of a surreal experience, to be honest, to be hanging out and spending time with Peyton and Eli,” Jones said.
“Since I was old enough to comprehend football, Peyton and Eli were kind of the guys of football. That was a whole lot of fun. I got to spend time with other college quarterbacks. There were a few workouts where it was fun to see them work out. It was just a really cool experience.”
Time will tell how Jones’ career progresses, but Cutcliffe seems confident Jones is poised to be the next great quarterback on a long list that he has coached.
“He will reach his potential in my opinion,” Cutcliffe said.
“He is right in line from an ability standpoint, and in some ways beyond because of his size, to have an opportunity to have an incredibly successful career as a college quarterback and potentially beyond that.”