Coach Blackney on Shawne Merriman: "Special"

Although it is unfortunate that Shawne Merriman joined the Chargers a few days late, it is almost an even greater injustice that all of the headlines he created were centered on the things he was not doing, and is not doing now that he is injured. This time of year is typically booming with optimistic speculations, and Merriman's play merits more than its fair share of such praise.

The bottom line is that when Merriman suits up to play again, he will be a force opposite Steve Foley. He may the final piece of the puzzle; the one that will ignite the pass rush, which will aid the secondary, which will complete the defense, which will protect the offense.

His arrival may just knock down the first domino that leads to the Chargers finally falling back into the Super Bowl. Some may scoff at such notions, arguing that no rookie is capable of making such an impact.

According to Gary Blackney, Merriman's defensive coordinator at Maryland, Merriman is capable of making as big an impact as he wants.

"The motor that he has is really something special," Blackney said. "It's just his mindset. He needs to get to the ball, and he'll fly all over the place to do it."

The Chargers drafted Merriman because of his ability as a pass rusher. That ability is obvious, as he recorded 8.5 sacks in each of his final two collegiate seasons. However, Merriman has the ability to contribute to the defense in a number of other ways as well.

"He's an edge-type pass rusher," Blackney said, "but he's able to do other things like dropping back into coverage, as athletic as he is."

It is Merriman's rare combination of athleticism and size, he measures in at six-foot-four and 272 lbs., that makes him such a threat. Throw in the ability to run the forty in 4.61 seconds and to leap an incredible 38.5 inches and you have yourself quite a beast. The Chargers objective come training camp will be to tame that beast and harness all of its raw ability.

Coach Blackney is well aware of which aspect of Merriman's game is in the most immediate need of harnessing.

"If depends on whether they play him up or down," Blackney said, "but he'll have to continue to get better against the run. He did that well here, but the NFL is another level."

Merriman has the tools to develop into an impact player in the NFL, and because of his age he will likely remain one for a long time. He only recently celebrated his twenty-first birthday, meaning he has lots of big hits left to deliver.

"He was seventeen when he got here, and he only played three years," recalled Blackney, "so his best football is definitely ahead of him. He's improved in every aspect of the game."

Merriman's nickname is Lights Out, a moniker he earned in high school for knocking opponents out of games. Chargers fans should focus on the thought of Merriman turning out Eli Manning's lights in primetime on September 25th instead of the time he is missing on the practice field. If they did that, they would realize that selecting Shawne Merriman twelfth overall is something the team would and should do again in a heartbeat.

Michael Lombardo can be reached at

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