The potential was shown sometimes, but not on a consistent basis, which drove defensive coordinator Vic Koenning crazy. He knew all the talent in the world was inside Merling, but only on occasion came to the surface.
Then it happened, a few weeks ago Merling discovered something about himself and his position that has changed him and the way he plays. Now, that potential is suddenly bubbling out. He's been named the ACC Defensive Lineman of the Week three times.
"At the beginning of the season, offensive tackles probably knew what I was going to do," the junior said. "I didn't keep them guessing. Every once in a while I'd throw in a different type of in there and get to the quarterback, but I wasn't doing that on a regular basis.
"Now I'm trying to change up a lot of the things I do: speed, power, speed, swim, spin. I think I'm making the offensive tackle think more. I was the one thinking more in the beginning of the season and I should have been the one attacking."
Merling realized that with his size, strength and speed that he could often overpower the big, burly offensive linemen he was matched against. But he actually did some homework before changing his style of play.
"(The coaches) said they wanted more pressure on the quarterback and I just sat down and started thinking and watching film from last year and watching all my good (plays)," Merling said. "I just started watching every pass rush that I took and all my good pass rushes and how I got to the quarterback. Then I said, well, I got to the quarterback doing that move and I need to start doing that more."
Then came his moment of clarity where what he saw on film actually worked in a real game.
"Against Wake Forest, I just ran over (the tackle) and tried to use my speed with more power," Merling said. "I just landed into his chest and did a long-arm move and I was like, man, it really works. Then against Boston College I did it again and it worked again and I was like, this is a move I need to keep."
Against the Eagles, Merling registered six tackles, including two sacks for 22 yards. He was also credited with three quarterback pressures, and drew two holding calls.
Just like that, his whole way of thinking about what it took to be a successful defensive end had changed.
"I'd been thinking for a pass rush, you got to get like Gaines (Adams), who was so fast, and you got to run around the offensive tackle real fast and get to the quarterback before he throws the ball," Merling said. "But really you need to get to that spot in two seconds and you can go through somebody in two seconds as well as you can run around them.
"I just had to realize that I'm not the type of player that can run around them every time. I need to use my power and then when I let them set heavy, then I'll get around them with my speed. …
"I was rushing up the field and going with speed, but now I'm going with power a lot."
QUICK HITS: Offensive guard Chris McDuffie played a lot more than anyone thought he would against Boston College given his torn ligament in his elbow. But the senior paid the price for playing with damaged goods.
"It hurt a lot worse Sunday than it did Saturday night," he said. "It hurt so bad that I wanted to cut my arm off."
The big fellow is slated to start against South Carolina Saturday night, with his hurt arm and all. …
Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden said he hasn't spoken to his former athletic director at Tulane in "a while." Ian McCaw is the current athletic director at Baylor, which is going to have its head football job open in a couple of weeks.
The paper in Waco, Texas, said Bowden is a candidate for the job. Bowden did say that McCaw is the one that contacted him while at Tulane and that he hadn't thought about applying for the job until the call. …
Other than McDuffie and a slightly sore shoulder for quarterback Cullen Harper, there are no injuries.
Merling Stepping Out
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