METAIRIE - Whether or not Chase Daniel takes a snap from center in Thursday night’s pre-season finale against the Tennessee Titans at the Superdome is irrelevant.
The third-year pro from the University of Missouri is the acknowledged backup quarterback for the New Orleans Saints as they say goodbye to the daily regimen of training camp and hello to the start of what promises to be an exciting regular season.
Daniel, 24, is not expected to start and perhaps won’t even play against the Titans in what amounts to an 11th-hour audition for “bubble’’ players before rosters are pared down league-wide from 80 to 53 by 4 p.m. Saturday.
Unlike last year in training camp, when he had to beat out former Tulane standout Patrick Ramsey for a roster spot, Daniel’s role as understudy to Super Bowl XLIV MVP quarterback Drew Brees is locked down tight this year.
Third-string quarterback Sean Canfield is expected to start against the Titans and take the bulk of snaps with Daniel waiting in the wings if necessary.
“I watched Chase play in college, and I think there is something special about him,” longtime NFL and Saints quarterback Archie Manning said this week. “I think he’s really improved.
“I think he has a little chip on his shoulder because he wasn’t drafted (in 2009). He’s not the tallest of guys, but I think he’s plenty athletic and he’s got great football savvy. He’s around good people in Drew; he’s around good coaching in Sean (Payton). This is a good place for Chase Daniel to be.’’
Daniel, whose size (6-0, 225) and competitive spirit helped spawn the nickname “Baby Drewy,’’ has earned the right to play understudy to Brees based on his performance during the Saints’ first three exhibition games.
•?In 18 possessions against San Francisco, Houston and Oakland, Daniel has led the offense to six touchdowns, one field goal and two 2-point conversions for a total of 47 points.
e_SBlt?He has completed 28 of 53 passes for 447 yards with three touchdowns and one interception for a team-high passer rating of 92.3 percent. He also has lost one fumble and been sacked four times.
Statistics aside, Daniel has grasped the team’s extensive playbook, has command of the huddle, and, equally important, won Payton’s trust.
“He’s getting more and more comfortable with what we’re doing,’’ Payton said in reference to Daniel’s performance in a 40-20 victory Sunday night against the Raiders at O.co Coliseum. “You can see that. He moves the ball. He threw a couple of passes away and managed the game. That’s one of the things he’s working on.
“He’s in a chase to get better each week and trying to improve, and I thought he did some good things the other night. I thought he handled it well.’’
Well, as in completing nine of 18 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns, plus a 2-point conversion to wide receiver Adrian Arrington after replacing Brees midway through the second quarter.
“I think what makes (Daniel) a great player, and what will continue to, is that chip that’s on his shoulder and the fact that he’s always competing,’’ Brees said. “He’s not thinking about the guy maybe there to take his spot. He’s thinking about taking my job. And that’s what he should be thinking about.
“I think any guy who is a backup quarterback in this league that wants to be a great player, you’ve got to be able to visualize yourself as the starter and you’ve got to prepare yourself like that every day and he does that.’’
Daniel does so knowing that he is one play away from taking over the reins of a high octane offense.
“I really feel like the game is starting to slow down,’’ said Daniel, who originally was signed by the Washington Redskins as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2009. “I’m starting to progress past being that first- or second-year guy who just kind of goes in there and throwing wild winded and not knowing what to do.
“I feel like my growth from training camp to now has been exponential. The sky is the limit, and hopefully, I keep going and it’s going to keep better.’’
Daniel appears to have learned a thing or two off the field as well from Brees, the organization’s eloquent player spokesman for all issues big and small.
“It was awesome for us to come in here on national TV, on Sunday Night Football (on NBC), and really show ourselves - not really anyone else but ourselves - that this is what happens when you put our pedal to the throttle,’’ Daniel said. “It was excellent.
“To see a week’s worth of preparation and everything we’ve been doing in Oxnard (Calif.) carry over to the field, especially with the ones and our twos, it’s something that coach (Payton) dreams of. We can hold our heads high, but we also realize we have Tennessee. And then (Sept. 8), primetime under the lights, we got Green Bay, the defending Super Bowl champion. We know that’s the goal right now.’’
Brees couldn’t have said it better.
Payton said Brees and many other starters will not play against the Titans, but a handful of prominent players are expected to see action. They include CB Tracy Porter, SS Roman Harper, DE Will Smith and LG Carl Nicks, among others.