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Spotlight shines on Malcolm Perry as he takes reins of Navy's triple-option offense

Navy's Malcolm Perry had 146 yards on 15 carries, including a 68-yard touchdown scamper, in the first half of the Army-Navy game game in Philadelphia on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017.

MICHAEL S. DARNELL/STARS AND STRIPES

By BILL WAGNER | The Capital | Published: August 5, 2018

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Tribune News Service) — Malcolm Perry is a quiet, soft-spoken person by nature. If you administered some truth serum, Perry would probably admit he really does not enjoy doing interviews.

Like it or not, Perry now finds the spotlight shining directly on him. Having been anointed as Navy’s starting quarterback, the unassuming junior suddenly finds himself the center of attention.

That was obvious on Saturday as Navy conducted its annual Media Day and Fan Fest. When head coach Ken Niumatalolo opened the floor for questions, the very first one was about Perry. Down on the field at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, fans sought out Perry for pictures and autographs.

“As far as the limelight and the pressure, I think Malcolm is ready for it and can handle it,” Navy offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper said. “Malcolm may be a really, really quiet kid, but he wants to be good at what he does and has a lot of determination. I expect great things from him this season.”

Niumatalolo announced that Perry would be the starting quarterback going into the 2018 season following last year’s Army-Navy game. The 5-foot-9, 185-pound speedster ran for 250 yards against the Black Knights, displaying the game-breaking ability that is best showcased as the signal-caller of the triple-option offense.

Perry rushed for 646 yards and seven touchdowns in just three starts at quarterback. It would have been even more had he not missed almost the entire second half of the Military Bowl after sustaining an ankle injury.

Consider that Perry totaled 536 yards in nine starts at slotback and you understand why Niumatalolo and Jasper decided to put the ball in the hands of the team’s most dynamic playmaker.

Needless to say, there is excitement among the coaching staff about what Perry can do now that he’s had an entire offseason to focus on playing quarterback.

“We moved Malcolm late in the season so he didn’t have much time to be with Coach Jasper, who does a great job of developing quarterbacks,” Niumatalolo noted. “I’m looking forward to seeing the progress he makes this season.”

By all accounts, Perry has already made significant progress toward becoming a top-notch triple-option quarterback. The Tennessee native spent all of spring camp working to become a better passer and devoted the summer to learning the playbook inside and out.

“We know the running ability is already there so the focus in preseason camp is for Malcolm to continue to improve as a passer and gain more knowledge of the offense,” Jasper said. “It all comes down to Malcolm wanting to be a good quarterback. He is a very detail-oriented kid who works hard and is tough on himself.”

Jasper has seen Perry make tremendous strides in terms of throwing mechanics and said a big part of equation is having the confidence to connect with receivers during games.

Jasper has been coaching the Navy quarterbacks for 17 seasons and is a master of getting them to understand the intricacies of the triple-option offense. He has worked with a wide range of signal-callers and found a way to highlight the unique abilities of each.

“We have to make sure we put in a gameplan that takes advantage of Malcolm’s strengths. We don’t want to do too much. We want to make sure that everything is clear in his mind,” Jasper said. “You don’t need much with Malcolm. Just give him a few cracks here and there and he can take it to the house. It’s my job to make sure he knows the playbook and understands the gameplan. I’m confident I’ll have him ready to go.”

Perry knows that understanding the offense and being on the same page with Jasper are critical. That is why he carries the Navy offensive playbook everywhere and studies it as often as possible.

“It all starts with knowing the offense thoroughly to the point I know what everybody is doing on every play. Getting to that point will give me confidence,” he said. “Just learning the offense to the best of my ability is the first step. I’ve been in my playbook a lot this offseason and it’s coming along well so far.”

Jasper will also be pushing Perry to take charge of the huddle and show clearly he is the commander of the offense.

“That’s one thing we’ll have to see as preseason camp progresses. Like I said, Malcolm is very quiet and likes to let his play speak for itself,” Jasper said. “I do want him to be more of a leader and to have a voice because he is our quarterback. I believe the leadership will come with confidence.”

Niumatalolo invoked the name of record-setting quarterback Keenan Reynolds when describing the leadership by example that Perry provides.

“Malcolm is a humble kid who doesn’t say much, but works extremely hard. I think his work ethic exudes leadership,” Niumatalolo said. “From that standpoint, he’s similar to Keenan. Keenan wasn’t a rah-rah guy, just came to work every day. His work ethic forced everyone to work hard.”

Durability is a concern with Perry, who was rather skinny and slightly built as a sophomore. Strength and conditioning coordinator Bryan Fitzpatrick clearly did a good job of putting weight and muscle on the quarterback, who appeared much thicker on Media Day.

“I think the strength staff and the training staff have put me in a good position to last the whole season,” he said.

Perry made three starts at quarterback in 2017 and got hurt in two of them. The Kenwood High graduate exploded for 282 yards and four touchdowns versus SMU then sat out the following game against Notre Dame with an ankle injury. He went down early in the second half against Virginia in the Military Bowl with a foot injury.

Reynolds holds the Navy all-time record with 978 carries, but remained relatively healthy throughout his career by learning how to avoid contact.

“I have to make sure I coach up Malcolm about how to not take so much punishment,” Jasper said. “Get what you can yardage-wise, but don’t take any unnecessary hits. Get down or go out of bounds when you can.”

That being said, Jasper admitted there is concern about keeping Perry healthy for an entire 12-game regular season. Zach Abey, last year’s starting quarterback, will relieve Perry in situations when power running is necessary. The 6-foot-2, 212-pound Pasadena resident will play both wide receiver and quarterback this season.

“We have to be smart, which is why we have a plan for Zach to handle the short-yardage and goal-line plays. That is what Zach does and is really good at,” Jasper said. “Zach has a very important role with this football team because if we don’t convert on third and fourth down or on the goal line, we will be in trouble.”

Perry is hoping there won’t be too many goal-line opportunities for Abey as he would prefer to score touchdowns himself from further out. Blessed with a remarkable combination of speed, quickness and jaw-dropping moves, the youngster broke four touchdown runs of 65 yards or more last season.

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