Denzel Perryman thought he could walk it off.
On the second play of the Los Angeles Chargers’ Week 9 game against the Oakland Raiders, Perryman darted to deliver a hit to Oakland receiver Ryan Grant, only to pull up at the last second—Los Angeles cornerback Michael Davis was already lassoing Grant to the ground when Perryman arrived, and the middle linebacker wanted to avoid a helmet-to-helmet penalty. What ensued was the combined 399 pounds of Grant and Davis crashing into Perryman’s left knee, causing explosive pain. Perryman was helped off the field, but was soon jogging from end zone to end zone attempting to convince himself it was just a sprain.
He served as the team’s emergency linebacker the rest of the game, but an MRI the next day revealed he’d not only torn his LCL, but had also ripped his hamstring tendon clean off the bone. Perryman’s season was over, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time.
“It was a contract year, I was playing pretty well, then that happened,” Perryman told STACK. He may measure in at just 5-foot-11, but Perryman is one of the league’s elite run defenders. His absence left a gaping void in the heart of the Chargers defense.
“Whenever he’s in the game, we’re better. It’s just that simple,” Los Angeles Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn later told the Los Angeles Times of Perryman.
The procedure was Perryman’s second surgery in two years. As much as he wanted to shut down, he knew the toughest battle of rehab is often fought between your ears. “I didn’t go in the tank. My family helped me get through,” Perryman said. “I attacked rehab with everything I could. Did a little extra at home, not exercise-wise, but I ended up getting some machines I use in treatment to have at home. So when I’m just sitting around with my leg up doing nothing, I can hook my leg up to a stim machine or put my legs in a NormaTec.”
Perryman was ordered on bed rest for two months post-surgery, but he did everything in his power to help keep the Chargers defense strong from the sidelines. However, his absence eventually caught up with them. In the playoffs, the team commonly utilized seven defensive backs on the field simultaneously, largely due to a lack of linebacker depth. The strategy was enough for them to beat the Baltimore Ravens, but they then conceded 41 points, 155 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns in their loss to the New England Patriots.
Ever since Perryman’s been cleared to put pressure on his left leg, he’s been getting after it. As he’s returned to resistance training, he’s altered his routine from previous years, reducing the focus on grinding out heavy lifts in favor of utilizing a more diverse array of movements that strengthen a wider array of musculature. “I’ve ended up not doing so much powerlifting and (instead) working on a lot of core. Just little small muscles that I didn’t know I really had, I’ve worked them out,” Perryman says.
During the run-up to the official start of free agency on March 13, Perryman’s future was hazy. He wanted to stay in Los Angeles and help lead the team to a Super Bowl, but he knew there was a narrative that he couldn’t stay on the field. When the Chargers offered Perryman a two-year, $12 million extension in early March, he was overcome with emotion. As the ink dried on his new contract, tears rolled down his face.
“It means a lot, man. It was emotional for me. One of the reasons it was emotional (is because) when I got hurt, I really thought they were gonna let me go,” Perryman says. “It goes to show how much the Chargers have belief in me.” Now, he’s doing everything in his power to prove they made the right move.
In addition to his revamped training routine, Perryman has also hired a personal chef who’s helped him eat cleaner and dial in his portion control. The changes have helped Perryman get down to a ripped 220 pounds without sacrificing his strength. This time last year, he weighed 245.
“Your body is the machine. Like people always say, you don’t want to put in that bad gas—you want to put that premium stuff in it,” Perryman says. “Normally around this time, I’m around 240, easily. But started eating right and changed up my workouts a little bit to see the difference in my body…I actually feel great where I’m at.”
In addition to proving he can stay on the field this season, Perryman also wants to be more of a vocal leader. Above all, he wants to elevate a Chargers defense that allowed the ninth-fewest yards and eighth-fewest points per game last season into something even greater.
“We didn’t end the season how we wanted to. I’m not using the injury as an excuse, but we had to change up our game plan because we were kinda short at the linebacker position. But man, this year we need to be top five in everything,” Perryman says. “Just stay tuned.”
Photo Credit: Chargers.com