Some questioned whether it was the right decision for Merling to leave the Tigers a year early but he was taken in the second round of the '08 NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins. In addition, his rookie season went well as Merling received ample playing time and help orchestrate an amazing 10-win turnaround under new head coach Tony Sparano and new GM Bill Parcells.
Overall, he finished with 26 total tackles, including one sack and an interception return of Brett Favre for a touchdown in a win that clinched a playoff berth.
However, like his teammates, he isn't satisfied with merely making the playoffs and a solid first-year performance. Simply put, he and his fellow Dolphins want more and that could translate into a huge sophomore campaign for this former Clemson standout.
CUTigers.com recently caught up with Mearling in a recent phone conversation, and here is part of that exchange:
Phillip let's talk first about your time at Clemson. When you think back on your years here, how do you view them?
Merling: It was a great time. It was a really good experience. The coaches, they coached hard. The game atmosphere, you can't describe it in college football. You have Death Valley Stadium, everyone is in orange and it's sold out for every single game no matter who we were playing. The fans were really loyal. It was just a great atmosphere all around. I think we were one of the top schools in the country for academics. They helped not just get you eligible to play but to graduate.
What is your favorite memory as a Tiger?
Merling: The Boston College game (in 2007) where I had probably one of my best games at Clemson (was my favorite memory). Just looking at my uncle (Chris Rumph) and him also being a defensive lineman and how proud he was of how I played in that game was great. I played great in that game.
How did you view the rivalry with South Carolina?
Merling: Unfortunately, I wasn't in one of the classes that went undefeated. I went 2-1 against them. We lost to them my sophomore year. That rivalry is just crazy man. The fans are into it. The teams are into it. It's just an intense rivalry. You just want to win that trophy and bring it back home.
What was your relationship like with Coach Bowden?
Merling: Coach Bowden was a great coach and a mentor for everybody. He was the type of coach that allowed his players to come back no matter if they played or didn't play. He always allowed them to come back and get their degree to further themselves in life. If you were at Clemson with him, you always had a home. You could always come back. That's one thing he always preached to us. Players would graduate and then they would come back to be GAs to learn how to coach. They were bettering themselves for their families.
What are your thoughts now about Coach Swinney?
Merling: Great, it was time for a change. An unfortunate thing happened with Coach Bowden but another great thing has happened. We got a younger, more energized first-time head coach. I know he wants to keep that job. I got a chance to meet the coaches this summer when I came back and worked out with the team. They seem like a bunch of guys who want to win and came from winning traditions like Virginia Tech and Alabama. They all came from programs who have won championships and have played in big games.
How do you think Clemson will fare this fall?
Merling: I think they are going to do great. Especially on the d-line, we have so much talent on that front line that the front line could carry the team as far as being dominant with (Jarvis) Jenkins. I know with Dorell (Scott) gone, our time was done but they all did what they had to do. But the guys there with (Da'Quan) Bowers, Ricky (Sapp) in his senior year, Jenkins and everybody that's there, they've already played and been in the games. They know what it takes.
Did your rookie season go like you expected it would?
Merling: I think I did all right. I always put high expectations on myself and am tough on myself after games sometimes. Even when I had big games, I would always think I had a bad game. I learned to stop being so critical of myself. I'm critical of myself and when I look back, I think it was OK. I showed an ability to make plays and I did. This year, I hope to capitalize on my experience.
"It was unfortunate thing that happened with Coach Bowden but another great thing has happened. We got a younger, more energized first-time head coach. I know he wants to keep that job." - Phillip Merling on Dabo Swinney. (Roy Philpott)
Merling: (He is) a guy that wants to win and wants that in his players. He sets the tone for us and the standard. Coach Sparano does that also and that standard is high. There is nothing you can do right. If you do something right, they will praise you but they will always tell you how you can do it better. That's the way he is, tough. He has a winning tradition and he has brought that down here.
How did it feel to be part of a 10-game turnaround last season in Miami?
Merling: It was great. It was a great experience. We brought more fans in. We won games, close games. We sold out a bunch of games last year.
You guys beat the Jets and Brett Favre to get into the playoffs. What was that like?
Merling: That was big because it got us in the playoffs. we weren't satisfied with last year. This year, we want to do even better.
What was the biggest adjustment for you to the NFL?
Merling: The game is a little faster but once I got used to the speed, I was pretty comfortable.
How does it feel to be part of the fraternity of ex-CU guys now in the league?
Merling: It's great. I talk to a lot of the old guys that are still in the NFL and a lot of those who have retired. They all have done well. It's good to be here but I'm not satisfied with just being here. I want to make my name here.
Has your preparation changed now that you have a year under your belt?
Merling: I really stepped my workouts up. I worked out more this off-season. I wanted to get my weight down.
What did you buy first with your car? Did you make any other big purchases?
Merling: My first purchase was my car. I bought a Cadillac. But other than that, I saved most of it.