OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Walking to the podium to address the media for the first time since injuring his knee on the first day of training camp in late July, Ravens receiver Breshad Perriman cracked a smile.
There hasn’t been much for the 2015 first-round pick to be happy about this season as he was officially placed on injured reserve on Tuesday, ending his rookie campaign before it ever began. Perriman’s partially-torn posterior cruciate ligament wound up being a microcosm of the 2015 season for Baltimore.
Much worse than anyone thought.
“It has been probably the hardest thing I’ve ever been through, honestly,” said Perriman, who is still wearing a brace on his right knee that is “healing very well” now. “It’s just a huge disappointment for me, and I feel like I’m letting them down as well, because I feel like I do have a role on this team. I don’t know how much I can help, but I know that I can help somewhere.”
Drafted to be the replacement for speedy veteran Torrey Smith, Perriman had impressed in spring workouts and was considered more advanced than Smith was as a rookie in 2011. The Ravens were so confident in Perriman’s ability and potential that general manager Ozzie Newsome did not add another veteran to pair with the 36-year-old Steve Smith, a mistake that’s come back to haunt them in the midst of a 2-7 season.
Injuring his knee in the final 30 minutes of the first full-squad practice on July 30, Perriman was initially told he would only miss a couple days of practice. However, a closer look revealed a PCL sprain — which is defined as a partial tear — that would keep him out longer than expected.
With head coach John Harbaugh not providing many specifics along the way, fans and media questioned what was really going on with Perriman’s knee and some began questioning his tougness. Meanwhile, the 22-year-old was struggling with the reality of not being able to contribute to the team that selected him 26th overall in April.
“I didn’t really see it coming, so once it happened, I shut everyone out,” Perriman said. “I wasn’t really talking to anybody. Finally, my parents noticed it, because I wasn’t even picking up their calls. Finally, they came up here for the weekend, and they really noticed my feelings and my reaction to all this stuff. They gave me words of encouragement about all the stuff that I’ve been through and all of the things that other people have been through that is way worse than this.”
His knee finally feeling good enough to return to the practice field on a limited basis on Sept. 24, Perriman experienced a setback a few days later in a pre-game workout at M&T Bank Stadium. Admitting that he “overdid it” working out with wide receivers coach Bobby Engram on the morning of the Cincinnati game, Perriman felt a “pop” in his knee, which would prove to be the fatal blow to his chances of playing this season.
Head coach John Harbaugh denied any knowledge of a setback when asked a few days later, but Perriman visited renowned orthopedist Dr. James Andrews, who discovered that the tear was worse than what it was originally. The 6-foot-2, 218-pound receiver received a platlet-rich plasma injection in addition to having the knee scoped, but the Ravens’ lack of transparency created more skepticism without any confirmation that he had re-injured his knee.
Even after the setback, the Ravens hoped Perriman would be able to return before the end of the year, but the rookie never appeared close to returning to practice as his teammates began realizing it looked like he wouldn’t be playing in 2015.
“As the season went on, it’s kind of like, ‘OK, this is going to be tough for him to really come in and contribute,'” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “Yes, you obviously feel for the kid. At the same time, it’s tough to really think too much about that, because we’re all in the midst of our own little thing and our own little battles.”
Harbaugh acknowledged during the bye week that the clock was ticking for a potential return, but Perriman said the collaborative decision was made to for him to go on IR this week because he would not have enough time to rebuild quadriceps strength and get back into football shape to realistically be able to play before the end of the season.
Despite his obvious disappointment of missing the entire season, Perriman said doctors haven’t shared any concern about the knee being a chronic or long-term problem.
“Not at all. They never expressed that to me, so that’s not [part] of my worries at all,” said Perriman, who also confirmed that the injury was unrelated to the Osgood-Schlatter disease that plagued him when he was younger. “They basically told me once I get this thing back 100 percent, that I’ll be good, and I should be fine throughout the rest of my career. It could potentially happen again, but the odds of that probably are slim.”
Even if Perriman is fully healthy moving forward, questions remain about his ability going into a critical offseason. At the time they drafted him, the Ravens hoped he would be their No. 1 receiver of the future with Steve Smith entering his 15th NFL season. Now, the latter is recovering from a torn Achilles and hasn’t yet announced whether he will follow through with his original plan to retire.
Trying to find a silver lining in a disappointing rookie year, Perriman feels confident about his mental approach to the game after learning all receiver positions in the offense, saying he’s at “a very strong point in the playbook.”
Despite his physical and emotional challenges dealing with the injury, coaches see a player with a strong commitment to the game.
“It’s difficult to continue to talk about the same subject, so we talk about other things,” offensive coordinator Marc Trestman said. “I think football’s really important to Breshad. I think being a Raven is really important to him, and he wants to get back here as quickly as he can. I know he’s working with the people who are trying to help him do that. He loves football, and he wants to be a part of this.”
After his frustrating and bizarre rookie season, fans will remain skeptical until Perriman proves that he is fully healthy and ready to contribute in 2016.
He can look no further than to a receiver the Ravens recently played — San Diego’s Keenan Allen — for inspiration. Having suffered a Grade 2 PCL tear in late October of his final season at Cal, Allen was slow to recover throughout the pre-draft process, which contributed to him falling to the third round of the 2013 draft.
Allen went on to catch 71 passes for 1,046 yards and eight touchdowns in 15 games as a rookie that fall. Perriman and the Ravens can only hope his career follows a similar path after a trying first year.
“This was a difficult point in time for me. I was in — I would probably say — like a dark hole for a good period of time,” Perriman said. “But I feel like next year — when next year comes around once I finally get healthy — I’m going to be hungrier than ever. I feel like I’m going to come back harder than I ever have.”