CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Speedy wide receivers and a fleet-footed and mobile quarterback have sparked anticipation about Virginia’s offensive potential this season, and a lumbering tight end could also be a part of the Cavaliers‘ success.
Evan Butts caught 32 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns last season, some as the second or third option on a play. That makes him the No. 2 returning receiver among tight ends in the Atlantic Coast Conference, trailing only Tommy Sweeney of Boston College (36 catches for 512 yards and four touchdowns.).
Butts quickly earned the trust of Bryce Perkins, a junior college transfer and Virginia’s quarterback.
Butts “has probably top-two hands on the team,” said Perkins, who arrived in time for spring practice. “You throw it near his body, he’s going to catch it for sure. Any time we need a for-sure catch, five yards, even long plays. … He’s so reliable, so consistent with his hands and his routes, that sometimes the focus may be too much on the deep routes and the speed guys. … He’s going to be a big part of this offense.”
That’s great news for the 6-foot-4, 250-pound senior, who has 55 career catches, six for touchdowns. The first sign his opportunities could increase came during spring practice.
“This past spring and in the offseason, I worked with Bryce and the coaches (on) maybe expanding my role, both blocking and receiving,” he said. “This past spring was a really good one for me, I thought. I got a lot more touches just because the defense has to be on their toes with Bryce and guys like (leading wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus) defending the deep ball, defending the QB run, so it definitely opens things up for a guy like me.”
Butts caught just seven passes in his first season under third-year coach Bronco Mendenhall, then nearly matched that with a career-best six catches for 54 yards in the second game last season, a 34-17 loss at Indiana.
Finally able to play his preferred dual-threat-quarterback-driven offense, Mendenhall knows Perkins will have a huge safety valve in Butts. It’s a welcomed option if Perkins is under pressure and doesn’t have time to the ball to his speed-burners like Zaccheaus, Joe Reed, Hasise Dubois, or Jordan Ellis out of the backfield.
“We have a saying here, or I have a saying that he’s always open it just seems like any time you need a first down and you want to throw it,” Mendenhall said. “So Olamide’s attention with a dynamic quarterback and a downhill runner — if we expand and get a vertical threat on the outside, and then Evan is always open, it starts to make things a little more spread out defensively against us, so that’s the initial direction.
“We still need to pull it off, but that’s the initial direction.”
Butts enjoyed the past two seasons when Virginia was predominantly a passing team with strong-armed Kurt Benkert, a dropback passer, at quarterback, but loves the possibilities that the season ahead holds.
“Playing with Kurt, you know, great quarterback, great leader, but Bryce brings that running skill set that’s different from what Kurt did,” he said. “Kurt could sling the ball 60, 70 yards down the field. Bryce can throw the ball and he can run. … It’s just going to open things up for the offense, so I’m real excited.”
So are the Cavaliers, hoping the difference translates into productivity.