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'Be you and everything else will follow': How the Denzel Perryman trade greatly benefited him and the Raiders defense


A series of unfortunate events in Los Angeles sealed Denzel Perryman's fate to become a Raider.

During the second day of joint practice with the Los Angles Rams in August, outside linebacker Nicholas Morrow was injured. Head Coach Jon Gruden vocally expressed in the offseason how much he felt the undrafted linebacker was going to be the heart of the defense. A few days later, the depth of the linebacker room continued to take a nose dive in SoFi Stadium. Javin White, another undrafted linebacker, was having a dominant showing in the preseason game against the Rams before going down with an injury.

Both were put on injured reserve to start to season.

Meanwhile in Charlotte, North Carolina, the Carolina Panthers were coming off a preseason loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Perryman had signed with the Panthers after spending six seasons with the Chargers – four of those seasons under Gus Bradley as his defensive coordinator. Perryman was trying to make the most out of his situation in Charlotte, despite dealing with a hip flexor injury that kept him out of action for most of Training Camp.

"I felt comfortable in Carolina," said Perryman. "I had to adjust to it, just coming from the West Coast to the East Coast. It was a different system so I had to adjust to the system. Being there in general, it was good. They got a lot of history there. I knew some former guys that played there. Some old teammates ... College alumni who I used to play with worked there.

"I talked to those and would run into those guys, but the atmosphere was alright."

Perryman's time in North Carolina was short-lived and not meant to be. Going into the regular season, he was behind Jermaine Carter Jr. on the depth chart for the starting middle linebacker position. As a free agent in the offseason, Perryman had some conversation with Gus Bradley about potentially reuniting in Las Vegas, however, it didn't work out at first.

With Morrow and White on the shelf indefinitely and Nick Kwiatkoski dealing with an injury at the time, Gruden and Bradley were faced with the challenge of trying to replenish their linebacking corps. The decision to trade for Perryman wasn't too hard to make, at least to Coach Gruden.

"He is a good player. Let's just say it like it is. He's a good linebacker. He's always been a good linebacker," Gruden said.

"He's healthy. He's had a hard time staying healthy. He knows this system and he's proven that he has talent and instincts, and he is a contact player. I guarantee he's proven that."

The trade to Las Vegas came as a shock, but not a surprise to Perryman. The 28-year-old had yet to play a down of football with the team he signed with nearly six months prior. It was made official on Sept. 1 that Perryman and a 2022 seventh-round pick were being sent to the Raiders in return for a 2022 sixth-round pick.

"I had just gotten home. I didn't know what to think of it," said Perryman. "I was just in building, somebody could've told me then. I didn't know how to feel or how to take it, but I'm here and I'm happy"

One of the first people to welcome him after the trade was none other than Gus Bradley.

"We talked on the phone and he was like, 'Look how things work out,' and I was like, 'Yeah, you have a point.'"

The team that was in need of a linebacker knew where to look. It only made sense for Bradley to rekindle the connection with Perryman, who had a 83.3 PFF grade last season in Los Angeles.

"Denzel, we have a lot of history with him just from our time back with the Chargers," Bradley said after the trade was completed. "He's a very good leader, very good pro. He brings some explosiveness to us. He's got very good instincts; he understands the package and what is asked of him. So, we just need to create some more depth there because of some of the situations we've been in. Healthy and come back in and able to play, he'll be a good addition. I think he'll fit in well with that group too."

Perryman had little time to adjust to life in Nevada. He had never been to Las Vegas until last season when the Chargers played the Raiders in their Week 15 matchup. While he's used to high temperatures from growing up in Miami, Florida, he explained how "humidity is one thing, but dry heat is another." He also compared Las Vegas to his hometown in the sense of "there is always something to do" in either city.

Since coming to the Raiders, the one thing he's enjoyed the most is getting acquainted with his new teammates inside Intermountain Healthcare Performance Center. The bonds he's been able to quickly develop have been a big plus behind the Raiders starting the season 3-0 for the first time since 2002.

"Just being inside the building is dope. Everybody here in this building is amazing," said Perryman. "It's just me being me, not overthinking stuff. Don't come in here and trying to be someone I'm not. Don't try to come in here and do too much. My mindset was to come in here and be who you are. Be you and everything else will follow."

He has definitely come in and been who he is – which is a hard hitter. The middle linebacker who has been with the Raiders for a little over a month has by far outplayed the sixth-round pick he was traded for. He currently leads the team in total tackles (36) and solo tackles (21) and has a fumble recovery. The linebacker is no longer just someone for depth filling the void of injuries. Perryman is a mainstay and a leader in this defense.

"He's playing with a lot of confidence right now versus the run and the pass," said Bradley. "His leadership skills that he's always possessed are really showing up. The players are responding to him. In critical times he has a sense of poise about him. He gets us lined up and ready to go. I think his banked experiences in the defense has been good, so all that combination and he's a very good player.

"He's blessed with some God-given talent and he's utilizing it, so we're very pleased with how far he's come along."

And of course, Perryman hitting his stride as a Raider couldn't come at a better, more fitting time. No. 52 has a primetime matchup Monday night against his former team. He still has love for a lot of former teammates, especially Chargers linebacker Kyzir White, who he says he talks to every week. The Raiders will be expecting another big game out of their linebacker and new leader of the defense. However, those expectations have not changed his "be you" mindset or added any pressure going against the Chargers.

"Hell yeah, I'm obviously excited," Perryman said about playing against his former team. "But it's more so you've just got to treat it like it's a regular game. If you go in there and try to make the game bigger than what it really is, you'll lose sight of just playing football.

"I'm just treating it like it's a regular game, bro."

As the Raiders head to SoFi Stadium for their Week 1 matchup, take a look back at past matchups between the Silver and Black and the Los Angeles Chargers.

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