Just three games into the season, there is already concern about the number and severity of the hits being taken by Navy quarterback Malcolm Perry.
Perry was forced to leave last Thursday night’s game at Memphis three times after being shaken up by hard shots. He was briefly knocked out of the East Carolina contest as well.
Head coach Ken Niumatalolo and offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper cringe every time Perry absorbs a big blow and would prefer it not happen so much. They have both counseled the slightly built senior to recognize when to give himself up in order to avoid the punishment.
“Really, it comes down to Malcom understanding that he has to be smart and get down more often because we need him to last the whole season,” Jasper said. “We’ve preached it and I’ve talked to him about it. He’ll eventually get the message and start getting his butt down or getting out of bounds when he can.”
Part of what makes Perry so special is his ability to make defenders miss. The 5-foot-9, 190-pound speedster has shown the ability to make quick cuts or instantly change direction − routinely leaving would-be tacklers grasping for air. However, doing so exposes the quarterback to potentially violent hits in the open field.
“Malcolm is a cutback runner, and obviously when you cut back that means other people are coming,” Niumatalolo noted. “We’re trying to help him get down a little bit more. We also don’t want to take away from his running instincts. Yes, I would love for Malcolm to protect himself more.”
During the second quarter of the Memphis loss, Perry put himself into exactly the type of situation the coaching staff is hoping he avoids. While trying to break free from the grasp of defensive lineman Wardalis Ducksworth, Perry was drilled from behind by 275-pound defensive tackle Morris Joseph.
“Malcolm has taken a lot of big shots by cutting back, and some can be brutal,” Jasper said. “When he cuts back and it works, we all love it. When he gets hit, we don’t like it. Hopefully, some big kid doesn’t come along and knock him out of a game.”
Joseph speared Perry in the shoulder with what was a borderline late hit and that injury clearly affected the Navy signal-caller for the rest of the game. Fortunately, Perry did not suffer a separated shoulder or any other type of debilitating injury and just needed a few days to get over the soreness.
“When you have someone like Malcolm who is such a dynamic runner, you’ve got to let him be who he is. At the same time, he needs to learn when to get down,” Jasper said. “It’s tough when you have a kid who is competitive and wants to help the team by getting extra yardage. There’s a fine line between getting extra yards and taking unnecessary hits.”
Former Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds became a master of avoiding contact, knowing just the moment to ease up in order to minimize the impact. As a junior and senior, Reynolds also wisely scooted out of bounds or slid to the turf to prevent opponents from taking a shot.
Jasper has shown Perry film of Reynolds doing just that. Jasper also shares video of current college and professional quarterbacks going to the ground or ducking out of bounds just before the defender arrives.
“Every game I watch, when I see the QB get down, I’ll get on my phone and send Malcolm the clip and say: ‘Hey, this is what it should look like.’ It’s a process and we’ll continue to get the message across to him,” Jasper said.
Perry has been practicing all week and is expected to be able to play against Air Force on Saturday. The Tennessee native said the pain of the shots he sustained against Memphis are reminder enough that accumulated contact takes a toll.
“Coach Jasper has expressed that it’s very important that I stay healthy. I’m not built to be taking all these hits,” Perry acknowledged. “It’s just a matter of changing my mindset and getting down when I can. I’m definitely feeling that after the Memphis game. It’s just something I’m going to have to work on as the season progresses.”
PERRY PASSING: Navy dedicated a significant amount of time during spring football practice to improving Perry’s passing skills.
Perry completed only 9 of 25 passes for 222 yards and a touchdown in five starts at quarterback last season. Niumatalolo knew that weakness had to be addressed and Jasper put considerable effort into working with Perry on various throwing fundamentals and technique.
During the summer, Perry worked every day with whichever wide receivers were available to further develop as a passer.
All that offseason effort has clearly paid off as Perry has been quite efficient throwing the ball thus far, completing 17 of 26 attempts for 336 yards and three touchdowns. That is a superb 65.4 completion percentage and he boasts an excellent 212.02 efficiency rating.
Perry made a tremendous throw against Memphis, dropping the ball into the arms of wide receiver Chance Warren for a 17-yard touchdown late in the first quarter.
Perry delivered the pass under heavy duress and wound up getting drilled by a defender almost immediately after releasing the ball. Nonetheless, the throw was right on the money, lofted over the outstretched arms of a chasing cornerback and placed into the only window possible for Warren to make the catch in the end zone before going out of bounds.
“I’ve seen that throw twice since I’ve been here – by Ricky Dobbs then Keenan Reynolds,” said Jasper, naming two of the finest passing quarterbacks of the current triple-option era at Navy. “That throw right there ranks up there with the best. That was a big-time throw.”
Perry said that long, looping pass to the end zone was one of the routes he worked on repeatedly with the wide receivers during summer sessions.
“That is something me and Chance specifically worked on a lot during the summer. It feels good to see it happen on the field,” Perry said.
Perry made another great throw off play-action on first-and-10 early in the second quarter, showing outstanding arm strength and accuracy in completing a 47-yard bomb to wide receiver Ryan Mitchell.
Mitchell made a difficult diving grab, but again Perry put the ball where only the receiver could make the play.
“It’s big for Malcolm’s confidence. He struggled throwing the ball last season. So making those big-time throws this season is huge,” Jasper said. “The more Malcolm gets comfortable throwing the football and shows opponents we can be a threat throwing the football, the better we’ll be as an offense.”
Opposing defenses stacked the box with 10 and 11 defenders at times last season because they did not respect Perry’s throwing ability. That scouting report has changed this season.
“Either respect the pass or see the ball completed,” Perry said. “It opens up the offense a lot more.”
BACKUP QB: Navy emerged from preseason camp with the backup quarterback situation unsettled. It is now clear that freshman Perry Olsen is No. 2 on the depth chart, ahead of junior Dalen Morris.
Sophomore Tyger Goslin was also in the mix for most of August practice and there does not seem to be much separation between him and Morris.
All three of the reserve signal-callers saw action in the 45-7 blowout of Holy Cross in the season opener. Olsen played the final 20 minutes of the 42-10 rout of East Carolina, rushing for 30 yards on 10 carries and completing the only pass he attempted.
Memphis marked the first game that a backup quarterback had to play at crunch time and the coaching staff chose Olsen, who took over for Perry for one play in the first quarter and for the final two plays of the second quarter.
Perry left the game for good after being hit while completing a short pass to slotback Myles Fells on second down of Navy’s final possession. Olsen came on again and was sacked for a loss of seven yards before throwing an incomplete pass and interception.
“All those guys are kind of in the same mold and they’re all making mistakes,” Jasper said of Olsen, Morris and Goslin. “I kind of looked at who has the most potential to help us move the football and be a physical runner and Perry (Olsen) is the guy.”
Olsen, a native of Yukon, Oklahoma, spent the 2018-2019 academic year at the Naval Academy Prep School and was indoctrinated into Navy. The 6-foot, 210-pounder was indoctrinated into Navy’s unique triple-option system and got game experience playing against other prep schools and junior colleges.
Jasper, who has been the Navy quarterbacks coach since 2002, has seen improvement in Olsen since the regular season began.
“Perry’s gotten in there and taken his lumps, but he’s learning a lot and growing up,” Jasper said. “Today in practice, he made some great decisions. Hopefully, we can get him more playing time this season in good situations when were ahead.”
Olsen is more in the mold of former Navy quarterbacks Will Worth and Zach Abey in terms of running style. Jasper acknowledged the Midshipmen have changed the game-plan a bit whenever Olsen has taken over at quarterback.
“You have to call the game to help him be successful,” he said. “Main thing right now is to give Perry rep after rep and try to show him all the looks.”
INJURY REPORT: Niumatalolo has established a new policy this season of not commenting on injuries. However, it was reported that fullback Nelson Smith left the Memphis game with a head injury following an apparent helmet-to-helmet hit during Navy’s first drive of the second quarter.
Smith left the game and did not return, being replaced at fullback by sophomore Isaac Ruoss the rest of the way. Ruoss, a 6-foot-1, 220-pound Pennsylvania native, ran for 18 yards on eight carries.
It was unclear whether Smith sustained a concussion and therefore entered into the usual protocol. However, the 5-foot-9, 218-pound junior has practiced in a limited capacity all this week.
Inside linebacker Tyler Pistorio, who was No. 1 on the depth chart for most of preseason, has yet to play in a game this season and has not practiced since suffering an undisclosed injury just prior to the opener.
Sources told The Capital that Pistorio is hopeful of returning to the field at some point this season.