With Bryce Perkins at QB, UVA remodeling its offense
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Bryce Perkins sat with Virginia quarterbacks coach Jason Beck and watched videos of the offense the Cavaliers want to move toward. He saw the plays U.Va.’s coaching staff ran when it had dual-threat quarterbacks like Taysom Hill during their 11 seasons at BYU.
And Perkins saw the perfect fit for him to revive his football career.
“I could really see myself doing big things in the offense,” Perkins said. “It was built for someone like me.”
A former Arizona State quarterback before an injury derailed his career with the Sun Devils, Perkins spent the past year at Western Arizona Community College. When Beck reached out to staffers there, he told them he was looking for a midyear transfer quarterback, preferably a previous Division I recruit, who could pass and run.
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Perkins — the younger brother of New York Giants running back Paul Perkins — fit the bill. He had thrown for 1,311 yards and seven touchdowns in 10 games in his one junior college season, while running for another 353 and four scores.
The younger Perkins had offers from Indiana, New Mexico and UTSA, but chose to come across the country for the chance to be part of the Cavaliers’ emerging program and new-look offense.
“I’m just happy I can get a second chance,” Perkins said. “I said this to my mom: I think this might be the happiest I’ve been playing football in the team setting.”
Virginia is equally happy to have him. With two-year starter Kurt Benkert gone, the team will have a new quarterback. It signed recruit Brennan Armstrong, who, like Perkins, enrolled early to go through spring practices.
Perkins has opened spring working with the first-team offense, winning over his teammates with his athletic ability and his on- and off-the-field demeanor.
“I think when a player comes in and is looking to contribute, rather than what they’re going to get, it endears them to their teammates,” third-year Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “He’s wanting to earn his chance to be on the team before he is the team. I think that’s why he’s viewed the way he is.”
At least one member of U.Va.’s staff had a good idea what to expect from Perkins. New strength and conditioning coach Shawn Griswold held that position at Arizona State during Perkins’ two seasons with the Sun Devils.
But Perkins, who is from nearby Queen Creek, Ariz., caught Griswold’s eye before he ever technically enrolled at ASU.
“When you sign, you can train at your university,” Griswold said. “Him being basically 14 miles away, he would come over every day after school and workout.”
During his redshirt and true freshman seasons, Griswold got glimpses of the kind of athletic ability Perkins possessed.
“When they talk about freak athletes, he’s definitely that,” Griswold said. “He could play multiple positions and be very good at them.”
Now, at U.Va., Griswold sees a more mature, more physically developed player than the kid he knew back in Arizona. But Perkins still has the same competitive spirit. In winter conditioning runs, Perkins would be out front.
In the weight room, Perkins attacks strength training with a passion not always seen from quarterbacks. All that has made a powerful first impression on his teammates and coaches.
“The first day we go out to run, he’s blowing everybody out of the water,” Griswold said. “That’s just his personality. He’s ultracompetitive.”
At the same time, Beck had Perkins learning formations, terminology and plays, a process that began as soon as he got on campus. Perkins also likes to study video of NFL quarterback Aaron Rogers and his footwork and mobility inside the pocket.
Offensive coordinator Robert Anae and Beck had shifted the offense the past two seasons to play to Benkert’s strengths. He was a strong-armed pocket passer.
Benkert ended up ranking third in the ACC in passing yards with 3,207, and fourth in touchdown passes with 25. But, overall, the Cavaliers scored the fewest points in the league, putting up just 22.5 per game.
They ended the year not scoring an offensive touchdown in their final nine quarters.
Now, they’re ready to rebuild their attack around Perkins.
“We tweaked everything to try to give us the best chance to compete and play with that style,” Beck said. “With these new guys, we’re kind of starting that process from scratch. Fundamentally we’re trying to do different things with this style of quarterback. That’s going to be a change for everyone else as well.”
“It’s what we want to do and what we need to do win more games.”