The 2020 East-West Shrine Bowl will be broadcast exclusively on NFL Network as well as the NFL and NFL Network apps at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday, Jan. 18.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — At Navy, Malcolm Perry was an option quarterback who — more often than not — chose the option to run. In fact, only one running back in the FBS finished with more rushing yards than his 2,017 this past season, and only two had more rushing touchdowns than his 21.
So, naturally, the undersized, dual-threat quarterback who served more as a running back with the Midshipmen got invited to this week’s East-West Shrine Bowl as a … wide receiver. And that’s just fine with Perry, who learned a long time ago that a roster position to him is merely a suggestion.
“Whatever it takes,” Perry said after his first practice on Monday inside Tropicana Field. “Anything that gets the ball in my hands, anything that keeps me on the field.”
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Playing different positions isn’t anything new to Perry. Coming out of high school, he wanted to be a running back at Tennessee, his preferred college and just a three-hour drive from home, but the Vols — with future NFL players Alvin Kamara (Saints), Jalen Hurd (49ers) and John Kelly (Rams) already on the RB depth chart — never offered a scholarship.
Instead, Perry — whose mother and father were both career enlistees in the Army — chose Navy, where in his first three seasons he struggled to find a home, bouncing around from slot back to quarterback on offense to kick returner on special teams. When you’re the best athlete on the field, as Perry was, coaches try to keep you off the sidelines.
As a senior, however, Perry was handed the starting quarterback duties and was the clear leader of a team that went 11-2 — an eight-game turnaround from 2018 and the second-best year-to-year improvement in FBS history. By beating Kansas State in the Liberty Bowl at the end of last month, a game in which Perry rushed for 213 yards on 28 carries, Navy was assured only its third top-25 finish in 56 years.
In 2019, Perry became the first FBS quarterback to rush for 2,000 yards in a season and the fourth to rush for 300 in a game (against Army in the regular-season finale). He only attempted 86 passes, for 1,084 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions.
In many ways, Perry is a lot like Keenan Reynolds, the athletic, dual-threat quarterback from Navy who was drafted in the sixth round in 2016 by the Baltimore Ravens. Reynolds, at almost the exact same size as Perry, was also invited to the East-West all-star game. He practiced at running back and kick returner, and his athleticism was clearly visible, something Perry hopes to put on display for the East coaches this week.
Monday was a good start. He showed an ability to run crisp routes, then use his soft hands to snag the ball away from his body.
“He looked like he needed a little training,” said Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive assistant Antwaan Randle El, who is coaching the East wide receivers. “But you could see the way he snagged the ball out of the air. That’s one of the things you look for in a young receiver — can he catch the ball and catch it clean? And he had no issues doing that.”
Perry said when he saw Randle El was going to be his coach this week, he turned on YouTube to watch videos of old Pittsburgh Steelers games, then saw some surprising older clips pop up from Randle El’s days at Indiana.
“I didn’t even know he played quarterback in college,” Perry said. “I plan on sitting down with him throughout the week and talk about making that transition.”
The talks would only be a continuation of what is happening on the field. At Monday’s practice, Perry took advantage of his fortuitous situation — being coached by Randle El and Amani Toomer, the former New York Giants wide receiver who is serving as an NFL Legends mentor this week. He stayed close to them and asked a lot of questions.
Randle El told him he needs to find someone who has played or understands the position and “run routes as much as he can” before his next opportunity in front of NFL scouts, whether that be at the NFL Scouting Combine or his pro day.
“I had Terance Mathis, who was with the Steelers when I first got there, and Hines Ward. Those guys started teaching me routes,” Randle El said. “He just needs to figure it all out, and I think he will because he’s such a smart kid.”
Day 1 practice notes
SMALL-SCHOOL STANDOUTS: Prospects from small schools have a chance at these all-star events to really get on the radar with NFL teams. There were three who stood out on Monday. Princeton QB Kevin Davidson (6-foot-4, 225 pounds) is as advertised with a big arm and deep-ball accuracy. WR Mason Kinsey from Berry College doesn’t look like a Division III player with his route-running and ball skills. And DT Tershawn Wharton from Missouri S&T more than held his own in one-on-one line drills. “It was funny,” said one scout. “Some of the big-school kids couldn’t compete with him.”
COMPETITIVE ROSTERS: More than one scout mentioned the overall quality of the rosters this year, as opposed to the past. “Scout-friendly,” said one. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we see one or two taken later in (Round) 2,” added another. “Lots of mid-round picks where teams make or break their drafts.”
LATE SCRATCH: According to an East-West official, Auburn CB Javaris Davis (concussion) was sent home before practices began after event doctors failed to pass him on his physical.
LATE-COMERS: Five players in Monday’s National Championship are expected to arrive on Tuesday. One — Clemson safety Tanner Muse, who initially accepted an invitation — is not expected to participate this week. The five players include wide receiver Derrick Dillon and linebacker Michael Divinity Jr. from LSU, and wide receiver Diondre Overton, center Sean Pollard and guard Gage Cervenka from Clemson.