There were plenty of smiles Monday morning as the Virginia football team took the field for its first spring practice.
Coach Bronco Mendenhall’s team made the most of the 2½-hour session as it tries to build off last year’s eight-win campaign and Belk Bowl championship.
“I was really anxious to see identity and competitive spirit, edge and eagerness to play the game, so I actually thought practice was cleaner than what I had anticipated in terms of assignments and execution,” Mendenhall said. “Certainly, the depth immediately showed up with some of our injured players [not practicing]. I thought I would notice. I didn’t think I’d notice quite as much as I did, so that’s going to be a management issue for the spring. Our execution and the way we played the game was cleaner than what I expected. What I didn’t see today was the edge, the intensity and the competitive nature I was hoping for and we’ll have to address that to get that right Wednesday.”
Quarterback Bryce Perkins returned from offseason surgery and showed very little rust during 7-on-7 or team drills. The 6-foot-3 rising senior quarterback is coming off a stellar season that saw him throw for 2,680 yards and 25 touchdowns and rush for 923 yards and nine more scores.
After the season, Perkins had surgery on his right pinky and doctors didn’t clear him to start throwing again until last Saturday.
Despite the layoff, Perkins was efficient on Monday, guiding the Cavaliers to a pair of touchdown drives in 11-on-11 drills, including a 70-yard pitch and catch near the end of practice. He also threw an interception and tried to force some throws in tight windows.
Mendenhall was pleased with what he saw from his signal caller.
“We didn’t have to limit volume today,” Mendenhall said. “He was much more accurate than I expected without having been able to throw all offseason. Eventually we’ll look at volume and if his arm looks tired or if there’s fatigue that might set in by number of throws, but at this point, this early, I didn’t see any of that today.”
Backup quarterback Brennan Armstrong also was an active participant during the first spring practice for the Wahoos. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound redshirt freshman showed great poise in the pocket and made good decisions. He showcased his versatility with a touchdown reception on a wheel route.
An early enrollee, Armstrong took part in spring practice last season. He appeared in four games for UVa last fall, but because of the new NCAA redshirt rule, he will still have four years of college eligibility left.
Armstrong said the experience of his first college season was a blessing.
“I feel like I’m an older guy now because I’ve already experienced one spring ball,” he said. “Coming into this, I feel a lot more confident. Obviously, I know the offense more and I’m trying to develop more of a leadership role on the team and give a spark to the offense this year.”
Mendenhall said Armstrong has come “a long way” for the opportunities that he’s been given. He also noted that Armstrong is capable of playing the position at a high level.
“He’s comfortable, regardless of the amount of stress and circumstance,” Mendenhall said. “He just loves to play football and thinks he can make every play, which is a great quality to have at quarterback.”
Armstrong understands his role in the offense and the importance of being ready to play.
“I just try to prepare myself every week like I’m the No. 1 quarterback,” Armstrong said. “Bryce does a heck of a job, but I’ve got to be ready just in case anything happens, and that’s what I did all last year. I think I rose to the occasion and hopefully I can continue to do that for us.”
Mendenhall likes Armstrong’s progress and understands its importance moving forward as Perkins heads into his senior season.
“Succession planning at quarterback is essential for consistency at any program,” he said. “Starting quarterbacks in college football go down all the time, so even to make it through one season, it’s great to have two. But certainly, if you’re thinking about building one year upon the next, you have to have a second and eventually a third [quarterback] ready to go at a really high level. This is a huge opportunity for us this spring to make sure that happens, which not only looks good for the  season but from then on.”