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Is Denzel Perryman still the Chargers’ “hammer”?

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The Chargers faced New Orleans for week two of the preseason leaving many confused to see such a familiar face so late into the game.

Mike Nowak - Los Angeles Chargers

Entering half a decade as the Chargers’ starting middle linebacker this year, Denzel Perryman was seen playing into the 4th quarter of the preseason Sunday, when, traditionally, most starters are off the field long before halftime.

Anthony Lynn silenced talk about a potential slide down the depth chart.

Perryman is coming back from an injury to his LCL which he sustained just past the midway point of last season. The answer for why Perryman wasn’t playing amongst the starters is the exact reason such a question even gains enough traction to be asked to the Head Coach. An answer that also becomes more confusing when you recall Perryman getting those reps with the starters the previous week.

In his young career, Denzel has lost 22 games to injury in 4 seasons. The Chargers, as a whole, lost their three best linebackers for the season last year. This prompted GM Tom Telesco to sign incredibly consistent veteran WLB Thomas Davis and add Drue Tranquill in the 4th round of the draft. Those two, combined with three quality starters returning from last year, make a position group — that was so depleted last season they hardly fielded a single linebacker for an entire game — one that is now stockpiled with more talent than they’ll be able to field.

Let me make one thing clear:

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Denzel Perryman is still the Chargers “hammer”. No one on this Chargers team makes that play but him. The patience and explosiveness in this play is a masterpiece.

He’s been consistently strong at stuffing the run for years, and if you’ve watched Chargers football the last several years, you know they could be much worse off in coverage. When you look at this group of linebackers though, it features: Thomas Davis who has been one of football’s best cover linebackers for a number of years, two converted safeties in Kyzir White and Drue Tranquill, and Jatavis Brown, a linebacker who’s shown his capability to fly around and use his 4.4 speed to make plays sideline to sideline. Not to mention current safety Adrian Phillips’ ability to play the position in this defense.

There’s no other linebacker I’d rather see in the game on 4th & short than #52, but he’s the last of the players mentioned I want on the field on 3rd & long. That’s not even an insult to his game in coverage; the Chargers just have that many guys who can cover at Linebacker.

Denzel, being the only one whose strengths definitively lie in the run game, might make him the most important linebacker on the roster. It also makes him the starter on the depth chart. The depth chart tells us the starters of the “base defense”, a package the Chargers lined up in just 20% of the time last year. Those snaps will not be taken from Perryman this year. The dime package is a different story. According to FootballOutsiders.com, the Chargers lined up in dime an absurd 64% of the time. The second highest usage of the dime package last year? Green Bay at 41%. That was in part due to the Chargers injuries at linebacker forcing defensive backs on to the field last year, but they also used dime more than any team in the NFL the year prior at 46%.

Perryman has been able to stay on the field in the dime defense thus far, but there is infinitely more competition on the roster than there has been since he joined the team. They also have former safety, and rookie standout Kyzir White, working in Perryman’s place as the MIKE linebacker during the preseason.

Denzel Perryman is still the Chargers hammer. With a bigger toolbox, the Chargers just might need him less.