Positional breakdown: Outside linebacker

As the ongoing roster analysis moves to the defensive side of the ball, the first position under the microscope is outside linebacker. There are two things this group is great at: sacking the quarterback and celebrating with style. Featuring the Lights Out dance, the Bowler and the Back Flip, this group loves to party in opposing backfields.

The showstopper at outside linebacker is Shawne Merriman, who posted a league-best 17 sacks in 2006 despite playing in only 12 games. He has the speed to beat tackles off the edge and the power to run over tight ends and backs.

If he can stay eligible and healthy for all 16 games next season, he should challenge Michael Strahan's single-season record of 22½ sacks.

"My shoulder feels good right now. It'll just be a couple more weeks until I'm back to 100 percent. I had a scope on my labrum about seven weeks ago…It has been (hurting) on and off for about two years. I decided to go back and get it strong again," said Merriman on May 5, 2007.

Opposite of Merriman is Shaun Phillips, who utilizes a wicked quick first step to get around offensive linemen before they ever get out of their stance. A first-time starter in 2006, Phillips finished with 11½ sacks, tied for the ninth-best total in the league. He was rewarded with a new six-year contract over the offseason.

"With a contract or without a contract, I love San Diego and I love being here. I plan on being here for a while. Luckily, this contract is going to help keep me here for a while and my productivity is going to really help keep me here for a while, and I'm looking forward to it," Phillips said.

The top reserve outside linebacker is Marques Harris, an undersized pass-rushing specialist who has a knack for sifting through the trash and getting to the quarterback. The problem is that at 245 pounds, Harris lacks the bulk to hold up at the point of attack.

Because of that, Carlos Polk will be the reserve of choice on first and second downs. He is a physical player with a nose for the ball, although he is a liability in coverage and only marginally effective as a pass rusher.

Depth is not what it once was at outside linebacker. Last year at this time, Merriman, Phillips and Steve Foley were all raring to go, forming one of the most feared pass-rushing trios in the league. Now, there is a steep drop in talent behind the two stalwart starters. However, with Lights Out and The Other Guy in the starting line-up, the well is far from dry.


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