Denzel Perryman finds his voice in the middle of the Chargers’ defense

Chargers linebacker Denzel Perryman assumes a defensive crouch during a practice in San Diego on May 23.
(K.C. Alfred / San Diego Union-Tribune)

In conversation, the “oomph” isn’t really present in Denzel Perryman’s voice.

The Chargers middle linebacker, the man tasked with relaying play calls, lining up teammates and breaking huddles, has a smooth alto when talking without a helmet covering his face.

“I’m just trying to earn my stripes,” he repeated. “It’s just my third year.”

But for coach Anthony Lynn and others working with the Chargers’ defense, the expectation is for Perryman to speak up even more and step into a role closely tied with his position on the field.

“He certainly has that personality to be a leader,” Lynn said. “I’ve watched him grow a little bit this offseason. His communication of Gus’ defense with the rest of the team and his spirit in practice, I see him being a leader on this football team.”


A second-round pick out of Miami in 2015, Perryman had a reputation for being one of the biggest hitters in college football. But, commanding an NFL defense from the inside linebacker spot requires more than just pop — it requires the right voice.

Perryman went through the same process at Miami, where, perhaps coincidentally, he came into his own in his third year. A pair of 100-plus-tackle seasons as a junior and senior got him drafted into a Charger uniform, and eventually into a starting role.

Maybe it was natural growth, and maybe it was accelerated by defensive captain Melvin Ingram’s absence from offseason workouts, but Perryman has become one of the faces of the Chargers’ young defense, paired with second-year linebacker Jativis Brown and third-year backer Kyle Emanuel in Gus Bradley’s 4-3 scheme.

Chargers linebacker Denzel Perryman intercepts a pass from Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan during a game on Oct. 26. 2016, in Atlanta.
(David Goldman / Associated Press)

“[He’ll] just get guys lined up sometimes and communicate the calls,” Lynn said. “I’m sure he’ll have a mic in his helmet.”

In his final season in Seattle, Bradley turned to a second-round pick to patrol the middle of his defense, and Bobby Wagner quickly became one of the most productive middle linebackers in the NFL. Perryman and Wagner are almost the same size, though Wagner’s faster while Perryman is probably a more physical player.


It’s natural to compare the Chargers’ defense to the one Bradley had success with Seattle — it’s a pretty good template. But, replication isn’t a top priority.

“We’re the Chargers, though,” Perryman said. “We ain’t Seattle. We ain’t the Jaguars [where Bradley was a head coach]. We’re the Chargers. I think we’re going to form our own defense.

“It is his system, but we’re going to form our own identity.”

And Perryman will be a big part of it because, well, he already is.

“You can try to do too much being a leader, but for me, I just want it to naturally happen,” he said. “Honestly, I do feel like I have somewhat of a leadership role. I call up the huddle, guys listen, respond. Older guys listen to what I’m saying and vice versa. Coach saying I’ve got that leadership role, that’s pretty good coming from the head coach. … I’m just earning my stripes.

“But, I have no problem taking on a leadership role.”

He’s been one of the most visible players as the Chargers transition from San Diego to Los Angeles. He ran a one-mile leg in the city marathon. He read Dr. Seuss to young fans at StubHub Center and he was on hand to celebrate the Chargers’ first-round pick just outside the gates of Disneyland.

“I like it. I like getting out in the community, period,” he said. “When they ask me to do stuff, I’m the first one to raise my hand and say, ‘I’ll do it.’ That’s the kind of person I am, positive attitude. I’m always smiling. And, I think it’s exactly why they ask me.”

Next, Lynn said, the Chargers will ask him to be even louder; to lead even more with his words and his actions. And, if history is any indication, Perryman will raise his hand to the sky as if to say, “I’ll do it.”

Follow Dan Woike on Twitter @DanWoikeSports