Chargers Dealing with Merriman's Distraction

Shawne Merriman has never had a problem with drawing attention to his Lights Out persona. But this isn't exactly what he or the Chargers had in mind leading up to Monday night's season opener against the Raiders.

Shawne Merriman, the team's three-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker, is dealing with the aftermath of being arrested on battery and false imprisonment charges Sunday morning.

When the Chargers returned to practice this week, Merriman's incident with TV personality Tila Tequila dominated the post-practice news cycle.

Merriman said repeatedly that he will be put in the clear once the full story comes out at what happened at his Poway home, about 15 miles north of San Diego.

"I think when it all surfaces, it will be a different situation," he said. "Period."

Merriman contends Tequila had been drinking and that he was merely trying to prevent her from driving while intoxicated.

Tequila claimed she was choked and thrown to the ground by Merriman when she attempted to exit.

Merriman, who is entering the final season of his contract, met with team president Dean Spanos and coach Norv Turner.

"They're just all supportive, hopefully we can move on from the situation as soon as possible," Merriman said.

The Chargers are counting on Merriman in a big way this year. When he missed all but one game last year with a knee injury, the Chargers' defense struggled. And nowhere was that more apparent than in the passing game, where the Chargers staggered and finished with the league's next-to-last worst ranking.

But with Merriman's return, the Chargers are counting on the benefits including the defense's backend not have to cover as long with an increased pass rush.

But so far, Merriman's return has just seen an increase in publicity about his off-the-field activities.

Still, running back LaDainian Tomlinson didn't think this latest episode would be a distraction.

"Initially, you think about it and wonder how it's going to affect the team," he said. "At the same time, we're all professionals. It's our job to play football."

QB Philip Rivers
Shana Siler/

--QB Philip Rivers appears poised for another big year. He is coming off a solid training camp, one in which he didn't have to worry about a rebuilt knee as was the case in the 2008 camp. Rivers could surpass those 34 touchdowns he threw for last year, which set a franchise record.

--RB LaDainian Tomlinson has shown no signs of a lingering problem with either his toe or groin, two injuries which helped diminish his production last year. While Darren Sproles was retained as the franchise player, Tomlinson will still get the bulk of carries.

--TE Antonio Gates didn't play in the final preseason game, but that was just a precaution. He is fit as well after battling toe and ankle injuries. Gates is as healthy as he has been in some two seasons.

--WR Vincent Jackson is primed to etch his name among the league's elite receivers. Jackson was the first Chargers wide out to gain 1,000 receiving yards since Curtis Conway turned the trick in 2001. Rivers has the ultimate confidence in Jackson, that he can use his frame and leaping ability to haul in passes in his general area.

--WR Chris Chambers disappeared through stretch of last season - he was also hampered by an ankle injury. But he is running well and could be the benefactor of defense's paying more attention to Jackson. Chambers is under the radar now, but that could change quickly.

--RG Louis Vasquez will be the opening day starter after expected starter Kynan Forney was released. Vasquez showed well in camp, once he was able to shake a foot injury. Still, he is making the jump from the spread offense of Texas Tech to the more balanced approach used by the Chargers.

--WR Malcom Floyd continues to be a favorite of Philip Rivers in the red zone. At 6-feet-5, Floyd is a reliable target. Plus, Floyd and Rivers always seem to be on the same page; the spent multiple seasons as backups together working out and that relationship continues to blossom.

--DE Jacques Cesaire has been stifled by a calf injury which wiped out his preseason games. Cesaire is replacing free agent Igor Olshansky and supplies some of the rare veteran depth at the end position for the Chargers. If Cesaire's calf balks, it's a bad sign for the Chargers.

--ILB Kevin Burnett won a starting job when proving he could hand the run downs as well as he drifts back into pass coverage. Burnett gives the defense an added dimension of speed and quickness as he's bent on proving he's more than a special teams demon since coming over as a free agent from Dallas.

--FS Eric Weddle could benefit from the tinkering defensive coordinator Ron Rivera did to this side of the ball in the offseason. Weddle is going to be able to show his range more and not be asked to come down in the box as often for run support. Weddle was a ball-hawk at Utah and the Chargers are eager to get him back in that role as they look for way to create more turnovers.

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