Bryce Perkins stood in the south end zone at Scott Stadium to answer questions after finishing spring practice and signing autographs. Among reporters’ chief inquiries for the returning starter at quarterback for Virginia focused on his throwing hand.
Perkins joined the Virginia football team for the entirety of spring practice after offseason surgery on his right pinky. The spring practices represented the first steps back and the Cavalier senior said that rehab is ongoing.
“It’s good. It’s still a little bent and swollen, but it feels great,” Perkins said. “I’m doing rehab every day and I anticipate it being better in the fall.”
Perkins required ligament repair in his pinky with a screw to hold it in place. So when the healing process was complete and the screw removed, the digit remained slightly curved and quite swollen. In fact, when Perkins showed it to reporters, those two traits were readily evident.
So even though he came back to throwing a football in March, the process to increase range of motion and strength with the pinky is an entirely different set of drills. Those include hand squeezes, working with putty, and other things to build back flexibility for that pinky. It all adds up to well beyond an hour and a half each day and Perkins said that it always will remain a little bit bent.
Still, the ongoing rehab work wasn’t going to keep Perkins off the field this spring. With receiver Olamide Zaccheaus and running back Jordan Ellis gone from the offense after creating a huge chunk of the team’s production – Zaccheaus posted 1,058 receiving yards with 9 touchdowns, while Ellis put up 1,026 rushing yards with 10 touchdowns – there is a sense of urgency around the team to figure out how to replace some of that firepower.
The Cavaliers open the season in Pittsburgh on Saturday, August 31 and with Perkins out during individual workouts in the winter, the Hoos needed to make up for some lost time. Plus, the team has big picture goals in mind in what looks like a wide open Coastal Division in the ACC.
“We know we’ve got replace spots that people left and we’ve got to do better than last year – we’ve got to build, we can’t stay the same,” Perkins said. “Last year was last year’s team. This is this year’s team. There’s a sense of urgency trying to find our identity.”
Perkins certainly will play a big part in that. He started all 13 games in 2018 as UVA won eight games including the Belk Bowl. He tallied 2,680 passing yards with 25 touchdowns and just 9 interceptions to go with 923 rushing yards and 9 touchdowns on the ground. That put him in elite company as one of only two players nationally with 2,600+ passing yards and 900+ rushing yards – the other was Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray, who won the Heisman Trophy and was the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft. Perkins set the UVA single season record with 3,603 yards of total offense and was No. 1 in the ACC in points responsible for with 206.
The encore to that may not be about numbers, at least not to Perkins. He is focused on how to read defenses and how to make them react on his list of development goals this season.
“Sitting down and evaluating every guy on the team and everybody’s strengths and weaknesses and working on that with each player individually. What guys are good at, what guys are not good at and what we can work on,” Perkins said. “Getting in the film and being better about coverages, recognizing [things], and total manipulation of the defense.”
Throw in the team goals of ending the Virginia Tech streak and competing for the Coastal Division crown and it’s clear that the months ahead are critical for Perkins. The Cavaliers have a more stable quarterback situation than the program has seen in years with Brennan Armstrong waiting in the wings, but Perkins provides the best chance to make more progress under Bronco Mendenhall again this year.
That’s why getting him back for spring practice was such a significant deal and why Perkins will need to be ready to work this summer.
“I think what I’ve seen is when Bryce started the spring there was caution and some hesitancy, but still very productive and confident and accurate,” Mendenhall said. “I didn’t see really any ill effects of the injury on his throwing. We were cautious about the volume because he hadn’t been throwing much prior. He improved every day through the spring. Now if you go back to being at full health and when he’s truly fit, dynamic, and throwing with the volume necessary, we’re still not to that point yet. There is enough time, meaning here was the offseason that basically he missed so his summer now becomes really, really important for his progression and well as our team’s progression, which he’s motivated and will do.”