CHARLOTTE - Denzel Perryman knows a little something about being part of a proud lineage of linebackers.
What he didn't necessarily know was that he was walking into another one, and that the Venn diagram overlapped so near to him.
The Panthers signed the former Chargers linebacker last week, and as he came to his new surroundings, he quickly realized he had some big shoes to fill.
Standing near a picture of Sam Mills on the wall, the discussion turned to the long line of outstanding middle linebackers the Panthers have had over the years, a list which includes Micheal Barrow, Dan Morgan, Jon Beason, and Luke Kuechly.
"Mike Barrow was here? He was my linebacker coach in college," Perryman said with a grin, and a hint of astonishment.
In his defense, Perryman was 4 years old when Barrow signed with the Panthers in 1997, so he gets a pass on that one.
Like Perryman, Barrow played at the University of Miami en route to the NFL, taking his place in the long line of star linebackers there, which includes names such as Ray Lewis and Jonathan Vilma in recent years, along with Morgan and Beason.
"It's like a fraternity," Perryman said. "If somebody told me their school was Linebacker U, I'd take offense at that. Being down at the U, it gets instilled in you that, I don't want to say you're a bad SOB, but that position rolls deep. Ray Lewis, those guys that played here, there are so many linebackers that paved the way, so when I got there, it was to try to continue the legacy.
"Coming from the U, wherever you are you have to represent. You have to continue the legacy. Those guys had great careers here, set the standard, and now I have to keep it high."
Of course, Panthers head coach Matt Rhule might object to the part about no other school having claim to the "Linebacker U" title, since his alma mater Penn State had guys such as Jack Ham and LaVar Arrington and Shane Conlan and Paul Posluszny at the position, in addition to a former walk-on who turned out OK named Matt Rhule.
But college debates aside, Perryman understands what it means to uphold a tradition, as he learns a new one.
With so many stars here in the past, the Panthers have almost taken top-level play at the position for granted. There was a bit of a dip last season, as you'd fairly expect in the first year of the post-Kuechly era, but the hope is that the 5-foot-11, 240-pound Perryman lends some stability to the middle.
He's a solid two-down defender (at least), and knows that part of his role will be to help a young group of players on his side of the ball, drawing from his experience from six years with the Chargers (including one year with Thomas Davis).
"As a veteran player, younger guys will gravitate toward me, pick my brain a little, so coming in and bringing that leadership role, hopefully I can help turn this thing around," Perryman said. "This could be something special, you just named three guys who are playmakers on this defense. And not to sound arrogant, but adding more playmakers to the defense. Being an older guy, I can share my knowledge and help them out with their game.
"I know what kind of talent they have on defense, so being a part of that to me is going to be incredible. My predecessors set a standard here, so when my agent told me about Carolina, it's like it's go time for me."
View photos of new free agent signee Denzel Perryman he comes to Bank of America Stadium and signs his free agent contract.