Are the Chargers Ready to Replace Merriman?

The Chargers' defense is now preparing for a sobering prospect: Playing the entire season without three-time Pro Bowler Shawne Merriman. Although Merriman is still seeking outside opinions on his aching knee, he has now confronted the reality that season-ending surgery is a viable option. So how would the Bolts cope without their defensive linchpin?

The Chargers are still hopeful Shawne Merriman will be able to rehab his injury without surgery, in which case he could be fit in time for the regular season opener. Another option, as reported by the Union Tribune, is undergoing surgery to repair his PCL, which would allow Merriman to play again this season.

However, Merriman may opt for reconstructive knee surgery to fix all the structural issues with his knee, which would cause him to miss the entire season. If that's the path he chooses, how will the Chargers rebound?

Second-year linebacker Jyles Tucker would slide into the starting lineup. Tucker made a big impact late last season, tallying three sacks, a forced fumble and a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders in the season finale, but he has yet to prove he can maintain that high level of play over a full season.


LB Shawne Merriman
Donald Miralle/Getty

The team also has backups Marques Harris and Carlos Polk. Harris is an effective pass-rusher but is best utilized in spot duty because of his undersized frame (6 foot 1, 245 lbs.). Polk is solid against the run but is a liability in pass coverage.

Head Coach Norv Turner may tinker with sliding one of his many inside linebackers to the outside position. Anthony Waters could be a candidate for such a move, as the team has been searching for a way to find him more playing time. Waters has the size (6 foot 3, 238 lbs.) and explosiveness to be effective off the edge, although the Chargers may be hesitant to disrupt his development with a position change.

Nonetheless, it appears that Merriman's replacement would have to come from inside the organization. The free agent market has been stripped bare, with 10-year veteran Shawn Barber one of the few viable options still on the open market.

Although the forecasts for San Diego's Super Bowl chances sans Merriman have been mostly gloom and doom, a look back at the last two seasons tells a different story. During that span, the Chargers are 5-0 when Merriman doesn't play, so it is clear the team is capable of winning without him.

If Merriman does miss the season, it will cast a huge shadow of doubt over his long-term future with the team. Merriman is only under contract through the 2009 season, at which point fellow franchise cornerstones Philip Rivers, Marcus McNeill, Chris Chambers, Vincent Jackson and Kassim Osgood are scheduled for unrestricted free agency, as well.

If the Chargers can survive -- or even thrive -- without Merriman in 2008, it will make him all the more expendable after the following season.

The hope, of course, is that Merriman is able to play in 2008. And as of now, no decision has been made to eliminate that possibility. However, if "Lights Out" elects to sit out, several young replacements will have to step in and start lighting up opposing quarterbacks.


SD Super Chargers Top Stories

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