Chargers' Denzel Perryman -- aka 'Baby thump' -- sheds weight in return

Denzel Perryman had 30 tackles and an interception in half a season with the Chargers in 2018. AP Photo/Matt Dunham

COSTA MESA, Calif. -- Denzel Perryman goes by the nickname "Baby thump" -- an homage to his reputation as a violent hitter -- according to Los Angeles Chargers versatile safety Adrian Phillips.

Phillips said the hard-hitting middle linebacker is starting to look like his old self, which is good news for a solid Bolts' defense that believes it can be special in 2019.

"I don't know if you all knew that," said a smiling Phillips, when asked about Perryman's nickname. "Seeing him back on the field and running around, he looks a lot better.

"A lot of guys, when they get hurt, they blow up [in weight]. He actually went the other way. He trimmed down a lot because he knows he has to be able to run with everything."

Out since November because of surgery after suffering a left knee and hamstring injury in a Week 10 game against the Oakland Raiders, Perryman recently returned to practice and was limited to individual work.

Perryman shed weight this offseason, dropping 20 pounds to get to 230. He attributed the weight loss to changing his offseason workout regimen, lifting less and working more on improving his flexibility and core muscle strength.

Perryman has not been cleared by the team's training staff to fully participate in practice but hopes to be by the time training camp begins on July 25.

"He's still rehabbing right now," Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. "He's in the huddle just to hear the calls, but he's not practicing right now [in team periods]. He's working a little bit on the side."

After another injury-prone season, Perryman did not know if he would return to the Chargers in the lead up to free agency. However, he inked a two-year, $12 million deal that included $4.9 million in guaranteed money in March.

Perryman said he was pleased to stay in Southern California -- a place he calls his second home after joining the Bolts as a second-round selection in the 2015 draft out of Miami.

An elated Perryman cried tears of joy moments after signing his contract.

"It was an emotional 24 hours," Perryman said. "Obviously, the world saw me cry. The reason why I got so emotional is because the Chargers could have let me go, and I didn't know what was going to happen. So just putting pen to paper was unreal."

Perryman with a helmet on was welcome site for Lynn, whose defense struggled at times to stop the run last season, including giving up 129 rushing yards to then-rookie Sony Michel in a season-ending playoff loss at the New England Patriots.

The difference in the run defense is stark when Perryman is on the field. Since he joined the team, the Bolts have given up 4.7 yards per carry when he's absent, and 4.0 yards per rush when he's on the field, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

But keeping Perryman on the field will be the key, and it's one of the reasons he shed weight. The 26-year-old Perryman has missed 23 out of a possible 65 games because of injury, and finished two of the past three seasons on the injured reserve. He played in only eight regular-season games last season.

"Coming off that injury, I think he has the right mindset of getting healthy and trying to come in here and help us win," Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward said. "You can tell when he's on the field that he definitely helps us. We're a better tackling team when he's on the field and just a better defense."

Perryman said he appreciated the addition of veteran linebacker Thomas Davis in free agency, and looks forward to playing alongside the former Carolina Panther this season.

"We're getting along great," Perryman said. "His locker is right next to mine, and it's really like having a big brother. It means a lot [to have someone like Davis on the team]. He brings energy and leadership."

Davis understands one of the reasons he signed with the Chargers in free agency was to serve as a mentor for younger linebackers like Perryman, helping them improve physically and mentally as a player.

"I've watched Denzel a lot," Davis said. "He has a ton of ability. His ability to strike people, I feel like is second to none in this league. As long as he's able to go out and stay healthy, he's one of the best linebackers in this league.

"I'm excited to help offer as much knowledge to him as I can. For one, so he can stay healthy because I've dealt with the injury stuff in my past. Whatever advice I can offer to help make that happen I'm going to give that to him."

With starting linebackers Perryman, Jatavis Brown and Kyzir White all finishing last season on the injured list, the Chargers loaded up at linebacker during the offseason.

Along with the signing of Davis, the Chargers drafted Notre Dame's Drue Tranquill in the fourth round and Emeke Egbule out of Houston in the sixth round.

The Chargers currently have 12 linebackers on the team's 90-man roster. But keeping Perryman out of the training room will be paramount for the position group and for the Chargers as a whole.

"The thing is with our team, we have a lot of energy," Phillips said. "When Denzel comes back, it'll raise up another notch. That's how vital he is to our defense. You know any time he's in there, he's destined to knock somebody's head off -- legally. It's great to have him out there."