But Merling provides a big upside for zero risk. He was the 32nd pick of the 2008 draft, so he's got first-round ability — if the Packers can harness that ability.
"It feels like a new start, a new beginning," Merling said after Tuesday's organized team activity. "Just play football. That's what I like doing. To get the opportunity to do it again, I'm going to take advantage of it."
After a standout senior season at Clemson in which he finished with seven sacks and 17 tackles for losses, Merling was a bust for Miami. He started five of 47 career games and finished with just 3.5 sacks and eight passes defensed. Merling played in just five games in 2010 with a torn Achilles, and he played in 10 games with one start in 2011.
Still, the Packers' defensive line is riddled with question marks beyond starters B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett. During OTAs, the other starting defensive lineman in the base alignment has been C.J. Wilson, who has made few noteworthy plays while starting two games in each of his two seasons. Anthony Hargrove is suspended for eight games and Mike Neal is suspended for four games. First and foremost, second-round pick Jerel Worthy was drafted to upgrade the pass rush. Ditto for fourth-round pick Mike Daniels, who hasn't practiced as he recovers from a torn labrum sustained before Iowa's bowl game. Last year's seventh-round pick, Lawrence Guy, didn't play last season because of a concussion.
At 6-foot-5 and 315 pounds, Merling could factor in the equation in the base 3-4 alignment.
"He's a big guy that has length to him," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said last week. "Kind of your classic 3-4 ends are those taller guys, and he was very well thought of when he came out. He's played in a different scheme, but a couple of years ago, (Miami) played some 3-4. I think with his size and his length that he's got a number of things you look for in a 3-4 end. We'll just have to see how fast he picks up what we're doing and where he'll fit in to things."
At Miami, Merling signed his restricted free agent tender but skipped voluntary workouts and was released just before the draft. For his part, Merling said "nothing" went wrong with Miami.
During his month out of the game, agent Jimmy Sexton hooked up Merling with Chuck Smith, the former Atlanta Falcons standout who has become renowned for his one-on-one work with defensive linemen. Smith's coaching went beyond the football field.
"I was with Chuck Smith, getting some d-line drills and pass-rush moves from him and just learning everything," Merling said. "He's got a great staff there, great weight room. Chuck Smith's a great guy. Not only did he help me out on the field and pass rushing, but he helped me out with keeping planners and how to organize and being a pro."
This is Merling's first full week with the team, so he's learning the playbook and the techniques on the fly. Even though it's early, Merling is optimistic.
"The scheme suits me," he said. "It's a little bit more athletic than just two-gapping, knock-you-back all the time. That plays into what I like doing."
Merling's release caught him off-guard, even with his lackluster production — no sacks of turnover-producing plays in his final two seasons — and work habits that reportedly left plenty to be desired.
For the league-minimum $700,000 and no guaranteed money, the Packers were willing to add a talented player who's been served a piece of humble pie.
"Very humbling," he said. "I never thought that would happen to me. Nobody does. Even if you're a free agent, when you come into a program, you're not thinking your going to be cut. That's the wrong way to approach anything. But it happened and I learned from it and it took me back down. I'm here to work. It's over with. That section's done. Now it's time to be a Green Bay Packer."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.