Q&A: Shawne Merriman

Chargers LB Shawne Merriman is the most feared pass rusher in the NFL.'s Chris Steuber spoke with the 3-time Pro Bowler about his ascension as one of the games elite players, how he got his "Lights Out" nickname, what San Diego has to do to get to the Super Bowl, and more in this exclusive.

Chris Steuber: How’s everything going?

Shawne Merriman: Everything is going well. I’m just working out with the team during our OTA’s this week. It’s amazing to see something that isn’t mandatory to have the whole damn team there - it is great.

CS: How do you handle voluntary camps and workouts? Is it a prideful thing for you to show your face and set a good example for the young players?

Merriman: Yeah, just being there, working out and showing the guys that I’m committed to what we’re trying to accomplish. I think it’s important for the guys to see me there.

CS: I mentioned setting an example for the young players, but you’re still very young yourself. You turn 24 this weekend, happy birthday by the way, and you’re entering your fourth season. At your age, is it hard for you to believe that you’re a veteran, and players your age come into the league looking up to you?

Merriman: Thank you; it’s kind of amazing. You’re right; there are guys who come into the league that are my age. It’s funny to have as much experience as I do under my belt. All of the accolades and notoriety that I’ve obtained over the past three years has been incredible at my age.

Intensity is just one attribute Merriman brings to the field. He’s the most dominant pass rusher in the NFL.
Donald Miralle/Getty Images

CS: Since you entered the NFL, you’ve been one of, if not the most dominant pass rushing threats in the game. The intensity and dominant nature you bring to the field is uncanny. What do you attribute to your success?

Merriman: I’m blessed, man; that’s what it comes down to. To be so young and to accomplish everything that I have, to remain, for the most part, healthy and still be able to find ways to get better has been huge for me.

CS: As good as you are on the field, I’m sure you’re a perfectionist and are always looking for ways to get better. Is there an aspect of your game that you’re still perfecting?

Merriman: My motto every year and the reason why I’m able to accomplish the things that I accomplish every year to stay on top is to take my game up another notch. You always find a way to improve. Even now, I still look back at film from last year and the year before and I’m like damn, I could have done better. And I am such a perfectionist when it comes to that, and I’m always looking for ways to take it up another notch.

CS: Being a highly touted prospect out of the University of Maryland did you envision yourself having this kind of success in the NFL?

Merriman: I imagined having it, but how early and how soon I didn’t know. However, I wanted to prove that I was the best at what I do and I strived to keep doing it. I think it’s easy to come out one or two years and have success in the league, because nobody knows who you are. The opposition doesn’t know you, and you’re not accounted for, but once you start having the success I’ve had, you start to get noticed. They start to game plan and adjust to you because they know what kind of player you are. To have this kind of success this early, I would have never of guessed it, but I would have expected it to come sooner rather than later.

CS: How much does a 3-4 defensive scheme help your ability on the field, and do you feel you would have the same success in a 4-3?

Merriman: I feel that I could play in a 4-3 as well. I’ve played in both schemes at Maryland and even a little bit of both with the Chargers. I’m rushing the passer and doing things out of the defensive end position. But the 3-4 allows me to have that versatility to do everything. It allows me to be a run stopper, a pass defender who can drop in coverage; it allows me to use all of my God given ability.

CS: I know the whole story of how you were given the nickname “Lights Out,” but give me your side of the story. Does being referred to as “Lights Out” add more pressure to go out on the field and perform?

Merriman: Of course it does, man. It gives me that much more of an edge going into a season. When people look at me as a highly touted player with a nickname like “Lights Out,” you have to live up to it. I don’t mind living up to a name like “Lights Out” as long as we’re winning and doing what we have to do on the field. If we do what we’re supposed to do and I live up to the hype, it’s perfect.

CS: Do you feel the nickname places a target on you; a reason for the opposition to take an extra shot at you?

Merriman: I think it gives the opposition motivation, and I’m all about a challenge. I’m all about a challenge, not just during a game, but every single play I line up for. I want to be challenged. I want to challenge somebody else.

CS: You were challenged in 2006 when you tested positive for steroids. What is your recollection on that occurrence?

Merriman: It was very unfortunate. It was something I wish I could take back. I wish I had more knowledge of everything like I do now. It’s one of those things that you have to learn and live from and keep moving on by playing. It isn’t one of those things you can dwell on, because that doesn’t do any good. I just want to become the best football player and teammate I can possibly be.

CS: What did you learn from that experience?

Merriman: You have to know what you’re putting into your body. You have to have as much knowledge as you can, because all of the information isn’t always available; just make sure you have all the information before you take anything.

CS: What exactly was it that brought about a positive testing?

Merriman: It was just a supplement that guys take before they work out. I had no knowledge of any wrongdoing until the test came up positive. I think once it was brought to everybody’s attention, my teammates asked me a lot of questions about some of the supplements they were taking and how they should go about finding out if what they were taking was not allowed. It was a bad situation for it to be me, as in Shawne “Lights Out” Merriman, to test positive, but I think it opened up a lot of eyes in a positive way around the league.

Merriman is as aggressive off the field as he is on the field.
Donald Miralle/Getty Images

CS: Speaking of positive things, you do a lot of great things off the field. You’re involved in charity events and give back whenever you can. You also have a great personality and show it on television, which allows the fans to see a different side of you. How important is it for you to show you’re media savvy and that you care about the sport and the fans on a broadcast medium?

Merriman: I think it’s very important. I think you have to be a heck of a football player and a teammate to be fortunate enough to take part in the off the field things you mentioned. Football has given me the opportunity to do so many things off the field and has allowed me to market myself outside of football. A lot of people want to do these kinds of things, but it’s one thing to do them and another to be good at it. That’s what I’m all about; anything that I do I want to be the best at it.

CS: You’re also a bit of an entrepreneur. Talk to me about some of the ventures you have going right now.

Merriman: I’m part owner of the Stingaree [Nightclub/Restaurant] out here in San Diego. I also have a development company out here that’s rebuilding homes for the fire victims. I have a bunch of different things going on that you have to have a great team to pursue. I have a great team on and off the field and without that, no matter what I accomplish on the field, I won’t be able to accomplish off of it.

CS: On the field, the Chargers have come so close to realizing the ultimate goal of a Super Bowl berth the last couple of seasons. What is it going to take for you guys to take the next step?

Merriman: I think we’re one of the hardest working teams around the league, and we have a lot of faith, and we only believe in one way to finish a season, and that’s to win a Super Bowl. We believe going into this season that we have to finish out unlike we did last year. We’ve been to the playoffs, the AFC Championship Game; we all believe in finishing, and that’s what we plan on doing this year.

CS: Can you pinpoint an aspect on offense or defense that may be lacking or has to improve for you guys to get over that hurdle?

Merriman: It’s hard to say, because I think we had a lot of injuries last year, and that’s not something you can really work on. It’s just one of those things that you wish everyone was healthy. We definitely can’t start out this season like we did last year; going 1 – 3 was totally unacceptable. But we had a lot of key guys banged up.

CS: Do you have any superstitions or game week rituals you go through prior to Sunday?

Merriman: Yeah, from Monday to Wednesday I really try to have a mild tone. I try to be as relaxed as possible. I try not to get emotional or waste too much energy during game week, so that I can peak when it’s game time. It’s hard to wait for Sunday, especially when it’s only Tuesday during the week. You just can’t wait to see this team you’re preparing for, but you know you still have like a week to go before you get on the field. It’s tough not to waste energy during the week, but I think I do a good job of making sure that I don’t, so I’m at my best on Sunday.

CS: I guess you do that so “Light’s Out” isn’t burned out, right?

Merriman:  [Laughs]… For real, if I did half the things I do on Sundays during the week, it would be lights out for me.

CS: What have you been doing this off-season to prepare for the upcoming season, so when the lights go on it’s lights out for the opposition?

Merriman: I’ve been really spending a ton of time on my body. I’ve been working on the little things like working on my balance and cardio and some of the things that I should have focused on earlier.

CS: How do you guys get off to a fast start this season?

Merriman: We can’t worry about the talk of us going to the Super Bowl, that’s No. 1. We have to take one game at a time and not worry about the Super Bowl. I think if we do that, we’ll be fine.

CS: A lot of analysts are down on Philip Rivers due to his inconsistencies. He’s shown promise, but he’s made some questionable decisions in key situations over the last two seasons. What do you see in Philip, and can he be the leader to lead this team to the Super Bowl?

Merriman: I think Philip is a great leader, but we have a few leaders on the team that are capable of getting us where we want to go - myself, LT; we have guys on the field that can definitely lead us to the place we want to go.

A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999.

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