Merriman to kick-start Chargers' career Tuesday

The door to Shawne Merriman's career with the San Diego Chargers was kicked open on Tuesday when Ben Leber had surgery to remove a bone spur from his ankle on Tuesday.

The only thing standing in his way?

Learning the playbook, techniques, his responsibilities, his teammates, the nuances of outside linebacker – and getting in shape.

It won't be long now before Shawne Merriman is starting.

"It is pro football, so you're going to be behind a little bit," Merriman admitted.

Taken 12th overall in the 2005 NFL Draft, Merriman is a perfect fit for the 3-4 defense. He has the speed, size and uncanny athletic ability to be a force on the pass rush – one that ranked near the bottom of the league in 2004.

Now, with Ben Leber out of camp for the next two weeks, Merriman has an opportunity to put a stranglehold on the outside linebacker position.

It starts tonight when he dons the pads for the first time in front of an evening crowd.

"I'll be out there today," said Merriman. "I've been learning a lot so far. I expect to go out there and keep learning on the field and studying in the film room. I'm trying to pick up as much as I can as fast as I can."

His assimilation to the defense will be closely tied to the opportunity he has when the season starts.

Unlike a year ago when Philip Rivers arrived too late to challenge Drew Brees for the starting job, Merriman is in camp early enough to make an impact – as he did during his three year tenure at Maryland.

His only course in Chargers defense 101 was when he came out after the draft to watch some film. He knew at that point he would have to work on technique more than anything else.

But Merriman fashions himself as a quick learner. The combination of attributes he brings to the table as an athlete put the onus on him to do the hard work off the field and prepare each day like his job is on the line.

"I'm a pretty quick learner. I can't say two days or three days. I'm no stranger to the film room. If I have to bring a pillow and a blanket to sleep in there and learn the playbook, I'll have that in there with me. I'll make sure to get everything down pat."

His willingness to put in the extra work after officially missing a weekend and a day of camp may be the difference in his role when the season starts.

There are players on the roster, Leber included, who already have a firm understanding of the defense. Absorbing that into memory with repetition will put Merriman in an enviable position when the season begins. One that begins with him under contract and more than a month of practice seasoning, including four preseason games.

Leber may have been on watch before. Now he is on red alert.

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