The Chargers were dealt a blow when Denzel Perryman's ankle injury required surgery on Tuesday. Head Coach Anthony Lynn announced after practice that the third-year linebacker will be sidelined approximately 6-8 weeks into the season.
Still, the Bolts know they can't feel sorry for themselves.
Acknowledging they'll miss Perryman's presence in the middle, the team expressed confidence in a pair of veterans they're eyeing to fill his big shoes.
"Right now, (Korey) Toomer is stepping in there and Nick (Dzubnar) is stepping in there," Lynn said. "We'll see. We're just kind of juggling some guys around."
Toomer is a speedy veteran who joined the Bolts three weeks into the 2016 campaign. He proved invaluable, finishing with 69 tackles, nine tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and one sack in 13 games. The rangy 6-2, 235-pound linebacker boasts familiarity with Gus Bradley's defense thanks to his time playing for the Seattle Seahawks. Knowledge of the defense allows Toomer to make full use of his biggest advantage – speed.
"(That familiarity) helped tremendously," he said. "It helped a lot. Being in that defense early on in my career, it just shows me little stuff that I've been doing wrong. As far as not having to worry about the defense as a whole, (now) I can worry about the technique work and fundamentals…. (My speed has) always been an advantage of mine. I'm very athletic. I just try to use that to the best of my ability. Being athletic and fast, it helps with any scheme, obviously. In that 3-4 last year, it helped. And it's going to help with this defense too."
Meanwhile, Dzubnar is a homegrown linebacker who led the Bolts in special teams tackles as an undrafted rookie in 2015. Unfortunately, he suffered an ACL injury early last season which forced him to miss most of the year. Stout against the run, the Los Angeles native complements Toomer's strengths to a tee as the Chargers figure to use each in different packages.
"This is what you prepare for," Dzubnar acknowledged. "Football is such a next-guy-up type of thing. You can't be happy about it because Denzel is a great guy, a good friend of mine, and it's really unfortunate he went down. But we can't let the defense skip a beat because Denzel is not in. (If) we have to elevate our play to keep playing the way we are on the first team, it's up to us to compete our butts off and see how it goes."
The opportunity to make an impact on defense is one Dzubnar has craved for a while. After making his mark on special teams, he entered his sophomore season determined to contribute more on defense. Unfortunately, his ACL injury wiped away that opportunity. Rehabbing hard the last year, Dzubnar believes he has unfinished business.
"It's been a roller-coaster; it's been hard," he admitted. "I was an undrafted rookie who does really good on special teams (and) made a name for himself. OK, great. I did my rookie year, now it's time to start making a name for myself on defense in my second year. I started getting into the rotation on defense and boom, (my) knee goes out. So automatically, a really low point. I knew coming into this year I was like an undrafted rookie again. I had to make a name for myself again because these coaches don't know anything about me. They weren't here last year. They weren't here my rookie year. So I knew I was going to treat this year like I was an undrafted rookie (again) and just do what I can, play the way I play, and it will come out in the end."
While he may not have played in a similar system at the pro level before like Toomer, Dzubnar believes Bradley's system better fits his skillset. It's also one he's played in before when he was a star linebacker at Cal Poly – San Luis Obispo.
"I'm at home with this defense. I like this defense a lot. Coming here two years ago, that was a big switch for me (to play in) the defense we were running with (former Defensive Coordinator John Pagano.) This is my wheelhouse. A lot of zone drops, a lot of good eyes on the QB. You just break and play ball. I like it a lot…. I feel like it's more instincts (and) less matching of routes. More get to your spot, read the QB, break and drive. It's all about instincts (and) about want to. It's who's going to get to the ball first? Who's going to make the play."