Perkins, Reed shine in NFL preseason debuts; several other former Hoos see action

By Scott Ratcliffe

Bryce Perkins (Photo: Los Angeles Rams)

The NFL preseason kicked off this weekend, with several former Virginia stars making a case for a spot on their respective 53-man rosters. UVA alum Bryce Perkins made the most of his opportunity as the starting quarterback for the defending Super Bowl champion Rams Saturday in a 29-22 win over the crosstown-rival Chargers.

With starter Matthew Stafford and projected backup John Wolford both watching from the sidelines in street clothes, Perkins made a strong case for increased playing time.

Perkins, who set UVA’s single-season passing mark as a senior in 2019 with 3,538 yards, completed 10 of 17 passes for 133 yards and a pair of touchdown tosses Saturday night, with both of them going to Rams wideout Lance McCutcheon. Their first scoring connection was a 60-yarder down the sideline, which gave the Rams their first lead of the night with 5:17 to go in the first half.

The 25-year old native of Chandler, Ariz., also found the end zone with his feet on a one-yard keeper midway through the third quarter, and then was successful on a two-point toss to McCutcheon to give his team a 22-14 advantage.

“Whenever I’m out there, I’m really just trying to compete my tail off for the guys,” said Perkins. “I know all those guys are fighting, so I just try to do my part and fight as well.”

Perkins, who took every snap for the Rams Saturday, rushed eight times for 39 yards, and certainly caught the attention of head coach Sean McVay.

“I was really pleased with Bryce’s ability to be able to handle all the different situations that came up,” McVay said afterwards. “He’s a playmaker. I thought [offensive coordinator Liam Coen] did a good job of putting him in good spots to accentuate his skill sets.”

His second TD toss to McCutcheon, an 11-yard delivery which came with 6:11 left in the fourth quarter, proved to be the game-winning score.

Perkins wasn’t the only former Wahoo to make headlines in the preseason “Battle of Los Angeles,” however. Chargers receiver Joe Reed (‘19) scored the game’s first touchdown on a 41-yard toss from Chase Daniel in the first quarter.

Reed, who is currently projected to be the Bolts’ No. 3 slot receiver, hauled in four catches (on six targets) for 61 yards, while also returning three kickoffs for 60 yards. Reed’s Charger teammate and former Cavalier standout Andrew Brown (‘17) registered a hit on Perkins during the contest.

In Buffalo, Jelani Woods (‘21) caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Sam Ehlinger Saturday with 7:17 left in the third quarter against the Bills. Woods also secured his other target of the night and finished with 22 yards in his first taste of professional football on 23 snaps.

Another former Hoo, veteran Indianapolis DB Rodney McLeod (‘11), played just six snaps against the Bills on Saturday, but picked off a Case Keenum pass on the Bills’ second drive of the game. McLeod, who spent his first four seasons with the Rams before playing the past six in Philadelphia, is projected as the Colts’ primary backup at strong safety.

Across the field, UVA alum Tim Harris (‘18) — formerly with the 49ers and Browns — had three tackles (all solo) for Buffalo, as his new teammate Tyler Bass booted a walk-off, 46-yard field goal for the Bills’ 27-24 victory.

Brent Urban (‘13), who was drafted by the Ravens in 2014 and enjoyed four successful seasons in Baltimore, got the start at defensive end against the Titans on Thursday. Urban, who has also played for Chicago, Tennessee and Dallas, is back in his old stomping grounds and is expected to play an important role for the Ravens, who owned last year’s best run defense.

Urban is reunited with former Virginia teammate Morgan Moses (‘13), who signed a 3-year, $15 million deal in the offseason. Moses did not suit up against Tennessee, but he’s expected to start at right tackle when the regular season begins.

Tight end Tony Poljan (‘20) is also a member of the Ravens, but did not see any action in the preseason opener. He signed a reserve/future deal with the team back in January and is part of a loaded room at the tight-end position behind starter Mark Andrews and reserves Nick Boyle, Charlie Kolar, Josh Oliver and Isiah Likely. Poljan spent last season with the Ravens practice squad, and could perhaps catch on with another organization if he’s once again not able to crack the opening-day roster.

Olamide Zaccheaus (‘18) continues to see his role increase in Atlanta, especially given the recent departure of Russell Gage, who had the team’s second-most targets behind talented tight end Kyle Pitts. The Falcons will also be without former first-round pick Calvin Ridley in 2022, as he was suspended indefinitely in March for betting on NFL games while away from the team in 2021 with mental health issues. Ridley played in just five contests last season, opening the door for Zaccheaus to step in and contribute.

Zaccheaus, Virginia’s career leader in receptions, played just seven snaps (no targets) in the opener against Detroit on Friday, but he was listed as a starter on the Falcons’ initial depth chart along with KhaDarel Hodge. He figures to be a significant piece of the Atlanta air attack this season after starting eight games in 2021. Last season, Zaccheaus had 31 receptions for 406 yards and three touchdowns. He also returned three punts for a total of 36 yards.

Longtime starting quarterback Matt Ryan is now with the Colts, so it’ll be between Marcus Mariota, Desmond Ridder and Feleipe Franks in terms of who will be throwing the ball to Zaccheaus in 2022.

Three former Cavaliers were involved as the Jets faced the Eagles in both teams’ opener Friday. Heading into his third season, Bryce Hall (‘19) got the start at cornerback for New York, opposite talented first-round draft pick Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner. He also figures to be a key part of the Jets’ special teams. Hall, who by all reports has been quite impressive in training camp (he intercepted Joe Flacco during Sunday’s practice), started all 17 games for New York last season, but will be challenged for playing time by Gardner and injured free agent signee D.J. Reed (hamstring).

Chris Glaser (‘21), an undrafted free agent who signed with Kansas City in the spring and summer, was released by the Chiefs in early August. After losing starting tackle Mekhi Becton to injury last week, the Jets added Glaser the next day, and he’ll be battling for playing time.

On the flip side, Philadelphia’s Anthony Harris (‘14) is back with the Eagles after agreeing to a one-year deal. Harris played just five snaps against the Jets Friday, but projects as a lock to start at safety when the regular season rolls around.

In his first NFL preseason game, Joey Blount (‘21) was the third-leading tackler for Seattle in Pittsburgh on Saturday night. Blount, who signed as a free agent with the Seahawks, recorded five tackles (four solo) in the 32-25 loss to the Steelers.

Juan Thornhill (‘18) had one of Kansas City’s five sacks on the night Saturday against Chicago. It was his lone stop of the evening on his nine snaps, but Thornhill’s expected to be a solid contributor once again for the Chiefs’ secondary. Charles Snowden (‘20) registered a tackle in 14 snaps at linebacker for the Bears. He also logged 15 snaps with special teams.

RaShaun Henry (‘21) saw a team-high 47 snaps and was targeted four times, but couldn’t haul in a reception for the Carolina Panthers against the Washington Commanders on Saturday. Henry was in on 64 percent of the Panthers’ snaps as he fights for a roster spot in Charlotte.

Offensive tackle Eric Smith (‘16) is back for a second stint with the New York Giants, after also spending the 2019 season in the Big Apple. Smith, 26, originally signed with the Miami Dolphins as a free agent in 2017 after not being drafted, but has also spent time with the Patriots, Jets, Cowboys and Cardinals since entering the league.

The Giants and head coach Brian Daboll lost a pair of tackles and were desperate to add experience and depth at the position. Smith, who signed with New York last week, was one of seven Giants offensive tackles to see action against New England on Thursday night, logging three snaps.

Micah Kiser (‘17) signed with Las Vegas in the offseason in the hopes to bring experience in a 3-4 front — which the Raiders will be moving to for the first time in five years — from the inside linebacker position. However, Kiser, who spent his first two seasons with the Rams before splitting time between the Rams and Broncos in 2021, was placed on injured reserve after being lost to a season-ending leg injury in practice in early August.

Week 2 schedule:

Thursday, Aug. 18
Chicago (Snowden) at Seattle (Blount), 8 p.m. (ESPN)

Friday, Aug. 19
Carolina (Henry) at New England, 7 p.m. (NFL Network)
Houston at LA Rams (Perkins), 10 p.m. (NFL Network)

Saturday, Aug. 20
Denver at Buffalo (T. Harris), 1 p.m. (NFL Network)
Detroit at Indianapolis (McLeod, Woods), 1 p.m.
Washington at Kansas City (Thornhill), 4 p.m. (NFL Network)
Dallas at LA Chargers (Brown, Reed), 10 p.m. (NFL Network)

Sunday, Aug. 21
Philadelphia (A. Harris) at Cleveland, 1 p.m. (NFL Network)
Cincinnati at NY Giants (Smith), 7 p.m. (NFL Network)
Baltimore (Moses, Poljan, Urban) at Arizona, 8 p.m. (FOX)

Monday, Aug. 22
Atlanta (Zaccheaus) at NY Jets (Glaser, Hall), 8 p.m. (ESPN)