Denzel Perryman's hits pack a punch at inside linebacker

Green Bay — The back-up quarterback position was not addressed before the 2013 season… and it came back to bite the Green Packers. The inside linebacker position was not addressed before the 2014 season… and that didn’t help, either.

By mid-season, the Packers mashed together a combination that sparked the run defense. Clay Matthews and Sam Barrington took on larger roles and the Packers’ last-ranked run defense finished the regular season strong.

Then, with Matthews out, Marshawn Lynch cut loose in the NFC Championship.

Chances are — whether its free agency or the NFL draft — general manager Ted Thompson won’t be ignoring the inside linebacker position again. Whether it’s a veteran in free agency or a prospect in the draft, the Packers could use more muscle in the middle.

And that’s where Miami (Fla.) inside linebacker Denzel Perryman enters the discussion.

Wearing the No. 52 carries a heavy responsibility in Miami. Both Ray Lewis and Jonathan Vilma cemented legacies in South Florida. Coaches gave Perryman that number and now the 5-foot-11, 244-pounder is considered the No. 1 inside linebacker prospect by many.

“He’s so powerful,” Hurricanes linebackers coach Hurlie Brown said. “He’s so strong in his hips and legs. All of his tackles are real big hits. But he’s so powerful and explosive, you don’t see many people make those plays and bend at the hips like he can.

“He’s extremely strong. And he’s smart. He really understands the defense. He understands the philosophy and how offenses are trying to attack him. He’s pretty much the total package.”

A throwback at middle linebacker, he first brought an attitude. All of his point-blank collisions inspired teammates, Brown said.

He points to two hits specifically — one fourth and 1, one third and 1. Against Cincinnati, on fourth down, Perryman delivered what Brown described as “one of the biggest hits I’ve ever seen."

“It wasn’t one of those hits where you’re coming down as a safety at 10, 12 yards full speed,” Brown said. “He steps right on your toes and the next thing you know, you’re going backwards. He’s just so powerful like that.”

Then, there’s the leap over South Carolina’s offensive line.

Perryman front-flipped over the offensive line, contorting his torso on the way down, grabbed quarterback Dylan Thompson and pulled him back behind the line.
One of those “dream plays,” Brown said, that “you never see.”

“He studied film,” Brown said. “He felt he knew the play was coming. He took a chance, took a shot. The ball was snapped and he jumped over the line and it was perfect timing. Even the way he jumped over the line, his body twisted to where he was able to land facing the back of the quarterback to where he could pull the quarterback back.

“It was one of those freak things it takes a special person to do.”

On an up-and-down Miami team, Perryman had 110 tackles last season — 50 more than anybody else — with 9.5 for loss, two sacks, six pass break-ups and three forced fumbles. Vocally, Perryman was the one usually speaking up in practice and barking on game day.

While that leap over South Carolina was athleticism at its finest, athleticism may be one concern with Perryman. Can he cover? Can he play three downs? For all of the wincing hits into next week, he’ll also need to cover backs and receivers in the NFL. The next level is a game of match-ups with coordinators always isolating 1-on-1 situations.

“We didn’t do a lot of that,” Brown said of linebackers covering. “So obviously, he’s going to have to work on it. But he can do it. When he’s called upon to do it, he’s fast enough and athletic enough to do it.”

He’ll also face questions about his height, the same questions Wisconsin's Chris Borland faced last year. Both are sub-6 feet.

Yet the playing style — triggering decisions quickly vs. the run, setting a tone with big hits — is something that can apply. In 14 games (eight starts), the third-round pick Borland finished with 108 tackles and two interceptions.

Possibly Barrington did enough to warrant an opportunity to start in 2015. Meanwhile, the careers of A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones in Green Bay may have ended in Seattle.

Perryman is one violent option via the draft.

“You’ve got to have a guy in the middle who can control the defense and spark everybody’s play — get everybody lined up, is smart enough, physical enough and athletic enough to make plays,” Brown said. “That’s what he does for us. That’s what he did for us.”

He believes Perryman can do what former 52’s Lewis and Vilma did before him, too.

“Definitely,” he said. “Without a doubt.”

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