Malcolm Perry hooked his fingers in the collar of his pads and shifted from side to side Monday afternoon in Annapolis as Navy wrapped up its third-to-last spring football practice behind him. Perry can’t help but move his feet — he rushed for 1,182 yards last season, then endured a foot injury at year’s end, only to come back for spring practice and run so fast that all month his coaches have been begging him to just slow down.
Speed comes naturally to Perry. It’s sure to be on display this season as the rising junior takes over as the Midshipmen’s full-time starter at quarterback. But there’s one thing he’s looking forward to most of all, and it’s not zipping through the defense at a breakneck pace.
Perry can’t wait to throw his first pass.
“Ohhhh, I’m looking forward to it,” Perry said, tapping his chest pads. “Just to get it off my chest. I’m ready to get back on the field and fix that.”
What Perry feels he needs to fix happened in last year’s game against Southern Methodist, his first career start at quarterback. He rushed for 282 yards, a program record for the position, but his only pass was intercepted. It shook his confidence in his throwing ability — and his ability to lead the offense — for the rest of the season. He did not attempt another pass in his final three starts.
That’s part of why, this spring, Coach Ken Niumatalolo and offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper have had Perry focus on throwing. Perry has been running through rapid-fire passing drills and throwing one-on-one with Jasper since spring practice started at the end of March.
Although Perry ideally won’t have to pass much in Navy’s triple-option offense, Niumatalolo and Jasper want him to be confident in all aspects of his game.
“We really wanted to get him into all of our throwing situations,” Niumatalolo said Monday. “Even though we’re not a throwing team, we know people are going to load the box up with him, so it was a big emphasis with us to work on our passing. People try to creep up their secondary — they better not, because this guy can throw the ball. . . . He was a quarterback in high school.”
It has been about two years since Perry really focused on passing. On the quarterback depth chart, he trailed Will Worth, Zach Abey and Tago Smith as a freshman before moving to slotback last spring, but even in his first year at Navy, throwing wasn’t a concern. In his college career, Perry has attempted two passes: that interception against SMU and a five-yard touchdown on a trick play the game before at Temple, when he lined up at slotback, took a pitch and hit Abey in the end zone.
But muscle memory from high school is taking over as Perry gets more comfortable throwing the ball. Jasper is focusing on the fundamentals: He simply needs the option to throw to exist in Perry’s mind.
“He has a good arm. He throws a great deep ball,” Jasper said. “It’s all the other things we have to work on — short routes, things like that. But if we’re doing what we should be doing on offense as far as running the football, the passing game will be there for us. It should just be nice, easy throws for him.”
Perry, who was in a cast for six weeks this winter after injuring his right foot in the third quarter of the Military Bowl victory over Virginia, has been able to work solely with Jasper this winter and spring after splitting time between slotback and quarterback last season. Jasper, too, is more focused this year after his youngest son, Jarren, underwent successful heart-transplant surgery at the end of January. Jarren is healthy enough that he was recently cleared to fly to California to watch his brother, Jaylen, play in a Stanford volleyball game.
Perry already feels more comfortable in the quarterbacks room.
“I actually understand what’s going on,” he said. “Freshman year, it was kind of a blur. I was behind Tago and Will, and they were in there answering questions, and I had no idea — no idea — what was going on. As the year progressed, I started understanding some stuff, and now I’m in there answering questions. Now I can talk to coach Jasper in football — football speak, you know what I mean? It’s good.”
Perry isn’t the only quarterback who has gotten reps this spring. Rising seniors Abey, who started nine games last year for a 7-6 team, and Garret Lewis, who started once, also have had productive springs. Abey couldn’t quite go full speed after having shoulder surgery this winter, but he participated more than Niumatalolo expected he would be able to.
Navy plans on finding roles for all three players. Abey rushed for 1,413 yards last year, one of two players in program history to exceed 1,400 yards in a season. The Midshipmen can’t give up that production.
“We’ve talked about it. They’ll all have a role,” Jasper said. “We’ve got to find a place for all three of those guys. . . . We’ll have a plan. We’ve got to be smart with it, use it well, and hopefully by the end of the season, we’re still at full strength.”
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