"He wasn't the same player out there," Marino said. "It looked like he could barely move. He couldn't go laterally, which was the biggest problem."
Merriman's lack of lateral quickness was the biggest issue against the Carolina Panthers, as "Lights Out" finished with two tackles and no sacks. Merriman relies on his ability to change direction to get by opposing offensive lineman; without it, he found himself dancing at the line of scrimmage.
"It looked like he was playing patty cake out there," Marino said.
OLB Shawne Merriman
Merriman's primary problem appeared to be more mental than physical. After talking non-stop about his knee for the last three weeks, Merriman seemed acutely aware that he was risking further injury by playing.
"He was protecting it," said Marino of Merriman's knee. "That's not the way he plays. He doesn't protect anything."
How much are the Chargers losing with Merriman out of the lineup? The answer depends largely on the play of the men who will replace him, Jyles Tucker and Marques Harris. Both have shown promise in spurts: Harris by finishing with 24 tackles and three sacks in 2006, Tucker by netting three sacks in the 2007 season finale against the Oakland Raiders.
However, Marino insists the Chargers defense will be notably less effective without Merriman on the field.
"Merriman is so gifted, it's unbelievable," Marino said. "He's such an explosive guy. He's extremely strong and so gifted athletically. He beats you with quickness and raw power. He's going to be missed. There is no question about it. It's hard to find a better guy than him."
Worse still, Marino expects Merriman will never return to peak form. That means Merriman's recent rampage -- he's registered 38.5 sacks in the last 37 games -- may be the highlight of his fledging career.
Sure, Merriman is 24 years old and a renowned workout warrior. Nonetheless, reconstructive knee surgery is no laughing matter, regardless of the patient.
"Any time there is surgery, you lose a little something," Marino said. "You're never quite the same. I think he was looking for someone to say to him, ‘You're fine,' but that just wasn't going to happen."
Prior to Merriman's injury, Marino had picked the Chargers to go to the Super Bowl. So, how does he feel now that the team is without its defensive MVP?
"I'm still picking them to go to the Super Bowl, but there's some doubt now," Marino said. "They have to prove to me they can win without him."
The Chargers are 5-0 in their last five games without Merriman. They get the chance to run that streak to six on Sunday when they travel to Denver to take on the Broncos with first place in the AFC West at stake. With a big win and a stingy defensive performance, the Chargers can take the first step towards making Marino a believer.
Tom Marino has over 35 years of experience as a professional scout, working for the NFL's Bears, Saints, Rams, Giants and Cowboys, along with both the WFL and USFL. As Scout.com's lead NFL analyst, he has primary responsibility for network reporting, the NFL draft, free agency databases and rankings.