MINNEAPOLIS — The Chargers had five kickoffs Sunday.
Three were returned.
On the first, inside linebacker Denzel Perryman shed a block from a Bengals tight end and tackled returner Adam Jones at the 24-yard line. On the second, Perryman had the angle on Jones, who tried to juke past him but fell when his right knee buckled at the 19. On the third, Perryman squared his shoulders and stuffed him at the 25.
Perryman. Perryman. Perryman.
Chargers coaches have noted the trend.
The rookie second-round pick played only two defensive snaps Sunday in Cincinnati. Still, he finished the game with five credited solo tackles, tied for second most on the team. All five came in special teams coverage. His production is expected to lead to greater opportunity on defense, one that could come as early as Sunday against the Vikings.
The 21-year-old didn't see the field on defense in Week 1.
His two reps in Week 2 came in a goal-to-go situation when the Bengals were inside the Chargers’ 5-yard line during the second quarter. Perryman shot a run gap to help mop up a tackle that defensive lineman Darius Philon made behind the line of scrimmage.
Rep division at inside linebacker has been fairly concentrated over the season's first two games.
Manti Te’o has played all 113 defensive snaps, the man in the middle of the base, nickel and dime defenses, relaying calls from the sideline to the huddle. Donald Butler has taken the second-most snaps at 90.
Perryman, Kavell Conner and rookie Nick Dzubnar round out the depth chart.
Peryman is the only reserve to have seen time defensively.
“He’s somebody we’ve got to find a way to keep building on it,” defensive coordinator John Pagano said. “All those guys, to me, are so interchangeable, to be able to do different things with them in different packages without giving the game plan.
“We’ve got to find roles for those guys. Football players like that, it’s great to have as your backups because as you know, it makes everyone better.”
Perryman missed some time this offseason.
In the spring, a hamstring injury limited his activity during organized team activities. A second, unrelated injury surfaced in training camp and sidelined him for the Aug. 22 exhibition game in Arizona.
The former thumper at Miami is working himself into the defensive fold.
It’s not his first time.
“My first year (at Miami), I started off at special teams,” Perryman said. “I got massaged in with play time. I knew coming into the league I would have to play special teams. I’m just doing what I can until my number gets called. Last week, I had a pretty good week. This week, I’m just trying to be consistent with my play.”
Perryman made two tackles Sunday in punt coverage.
On one, the returner ran out of bounds, but they call count the same.
His six special teams tackles on the season easily lead the NFL. Rams wide receiver Bradley Marquez has four; he’s the only other player with more than three.
Perryman is the first Charger to total five or more special teams tackles in a game since Mike Tolbert had six in 2011.
Looking ahead, Pagano would rather not overload the rookie on defense.
But gradually, his reps will increase. That playing time, similar to Chris Watt as a rookie last year when rotating at right guard with Johnnie Troutman, ultimately could prepare Perryman to handle a larger role in the event of injury. Watt wound up being called upon to start in November.
"It’s something we emphasize to college free agents and draft picks or players from other teams,” coach Mike McCoy said. “We stress the importance of special teams, and he bought into that. He’s done an outstanding job, whether it’s the preseason games that he played in or the first two games, of his attitude and the way we want him to play it.
“And then, him having the tackles he had (Sunday), we give him a lot of the credit to the success we had covering things, him making the tackles that he did. I’m very happy with the way he’s playing in the kicking game."