Merriman Mans Up

Shawne Merriman has decided to delay surgery on his damaged knee ligaments and attempt to play the 2008 season. What does this mean for Ted Cottrell's defense? And what can the Chargers do to help Merriman make it through a full 16-game schedule? SDBoltReport.com takes a closer look.

Shawne Merriman gave Chargers fans an early Christmas gift when he decreed he "just wants to play football." Now, the Chargers must find a way to make his gift one that keeps on giving. Merriman's torn PCL and LCL mean it will take a minor miracle for him to play the entire season, and it's up to Head Coach Norv Turner to play the role of miracle worker.

For one thing, the Chargers can cut back on Merriman's practice regiment.

"I'll be just as limited as I would be in any other practice," Merriman said at a press conference on Wednesday. "I'll go out and get all the reps I need to get."


LB Shawne Merriman
Jeff Gross/Getty

What remains to be seen is how many reps this fourth-year veteran needs. Merriman has been around the block and seen every kind of chip, cut block and double-team an offense can throw his way. So while he'll still want to practice to stay in sync with the defense and its weekly game plan, he can likely get away with practicing only two days a week.

The Chargers will also want to lighten Merriman's load on game days. While it's always a scary idea to take a game-changer off the field, San Diego can lean on a talented crop of reserves to allow Merriman to play no more than 40 snaps per game. That will allow "Lights Out" enough time to make an impact and get in the flow of the game, while significantly decreasing the odds of further injury.

The Chargers will likely use a three-man rotation of Jyles Tucker, Marques Harris and Carlos Polk to spell Merriman. Tucker will get the bulk of the snaps because of his ferocious hits and raw pass-rushing skills. Harris will see time, too, since he is more experienced and technically sounds than Tucker. Polk will be used in short-yardage and goal-line situations.

Although the Chargers have a bevy of options for replacing Merriman, the defense suffers a massive blow if he is forced off the field for an extended period of time. The team and player both agree that 80 percent of Shawne Merriman is better than 100 percent of most other players.

"I don't think you play this game at 100 percent," Merriman said. "No player that's been in the League for a certain amount of years plays at 100 percent. It's just about what you're able to deal with and what you're able to go out and get it done with."

What Merriman will have to "get it done with" is a bulky brace on his balky knee. That brace will be charged with stabilizing the knee of the NFL's sacks leader over the last three seasons (39½).

Merriman wore the brace throughout last year's postseason, where he netted one sack in three games. He'll have to strive for a better sack-to-games ratio when the action starts in 2008.

"It's kind of constricting, but it's definitely for the best," said Merriman of the brace.

The same can be said of Merriman's decision to play ball.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003.


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