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Merriman Motivated to Regain Old Form

Discussion in 'American Football' started by RaiderRay, Aug 20, 2009.

  1. RaiderRay

    RaiderRay RIP SD Chargers...Go Padres, Gulls, Ducks, Raiders Staff Member Administrator Podcaster

    Jun 20, 2005

    SAN DIEGO — On a recent cool, cloudy morning, while most of the Chargers were practicing, seven players filed over to the outdoor swimming pool at the team’s complex. Some lowered themselves gingerly into the chest-deep water and others jumped in gently.

    Shattering the calm was linebacker Shawne Merriman, who dived headfirst into the middle of the pool as if he were tackling a quarterback.

    It is not the only time Merriman plans to make a big splash this season. After surgery to repair torn knee ligaments cost him nearly all of 2008, Merriman says he fully expects to revitalize the Chargers’ pass rush and energize the defense. That, he hopes, will create another wave and lift them to the Super Bowl.

    How far Merriman goes in those quests may go a long way toward determining whether he remains in San Diego. In recent years, the Chargers have had one of the league’s most talented rosters, but they have lacked either the coaching, the character or the good health to break through to the Super Bowl.

    If a labor agreement is reached by next March, the Chargers could lose Merriman, quarterback Philip Rivers, left tackle Marcus McNeill, the special-teams player Kassim Osgood — all of whom have been to a Pro Bowl — and running back Darren Sproles to free agency. (If there is no accord, they will be under contract for another season.)

    Rivers is not going anywhere. The franchise tag will be reserved for him if a new deal, like the ones signed recently by his 2004 draft classmates Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, cannot be reached.

    As for everyone else?

    “I know I get all the questions, but I never reveal anything about anything until the end of the year,” General Manager A. J. Smith said. “There are lots of tea leaves being read right now.”

    The ones that settle at the feet of Merriman seem clear enough. After Merriman ignored the advice of doctors and delayed surgery that might have allowed him to return for the end of 2008, the Chargers signed Jyles Tucker, an undrafted free agent who had played in six games as Merriman’s backup, to a five-year contract that guaranteed him $6.5 million.

    Then, after Tucker’s lackluster season, the Chargers used the 16th overall pick on Larry English, an outside linebacker.

    Asked if Smith was trying to send a message, Merriman shrugged. “You have to ask him that,” Merriman said.

    From his office that overlooks the practice fields, Smith said only that he was trying to add depth to the roster. But if Merriman perceived these moves as slights, it did not bother Smith.

    “I like chips,” Smith said of the ones that rest on shoulders. “I like them for my coaches. I like them for my players.”

    In a world where euphemisms and vacant recitations — Belichick-isms — are the order of the day, the blunt and blustery Smith is a throwback. It is not necessary to know that his contract runs through 2014 to know who is in charge.

    Smith feuded with the former coach Marty Schottenheimer before firing him, and he does not always defer to star players.

    Rivers and tight end Antonio Gates have had contentious negotiations, and last winter, Smith considered trading or releasing running back LaDainian Tomlinson, as revered in San Diego as Tony Gwynn and the weather, if he was unwilling to restructure his contract. A deal was done, though not before Smith and Tomlinson laid out their cases publicly.

    When asked what Merriman could glean from his experience, Tomlinson said: “It’s the N.F.L. When the time comes, you have to be your own businessman.”

    Despite his willingness to take a hard line, often publicly, Smith described his approach as: “Always business. Never personal.” He paused and added, with emphasis, “Always business.”

    Smith is just as unequivocal about Merriman’s absence last season. There were other problems — including the midseason firing of the defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell, whom Smith had hired — but many of them can be traced to missing Merriman, one of the N.F.L.’s best pass rushers. The Chargers’ sack total dipped to 28, tied for 22nd in the league, after being among the top five in the previous three seasons with 42, 61 and 46 sacks. A diminished pass rush exposed a longstanding weakness in the secondary. Interceptions dropped to 15 last year from 30 in 2007.

    “As a corner, once you have that time clock in your head, you’re always depending on that time clock to be there,” said cornerback Antonio Cromartie, whose confidence took a dive along with his interceptions, which fell to 2 in 2008 from 10 the season before. “Last year it wasn’t always there.”

    The Chargers, despite having the second-highest-scoring offense in the N.F.L., had to win their final four games to finish 8-8 and reached the playoffs only because of a late-season collapse by Denver. They allowed 347 points, their most since 2003.

    “Look, we lost a great player,” Smith said. “This wasn’t a backup that was lost. This wasn’t a practice-squad guy you liked. This hurt — bad. If Shawne Merriman isn’t playing for the Chargers, that’s not a good thing.”

    But when it comes to questions about why the 25-year-old Merriman, a three-time Pro Bowler, does not have a long-term deal, Smith says he does not discuss team business publicly.

    It is back to tea leaves then. In 2006, Merriman tested positive for steroids, which he said were from a supplement. But a positive test for steroids did not stop the Chargers from drafting and extending the contract of defensive end Luis Castillo.

    The state of Merriman’s left knee, in which torn posterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments were repaired, is a concern. But perhaps more worrisome are questions of priorities.

    Off the field, Merriman appears to be a one-man stimulus package. He owns a nightclub in his native Maryland and is part owner of another in San Diego. He has a clothing line; pitches a new energy drink, which he promoted in Europe this summer; and has been involved in charity work in San Diego, the Washington area and New Orleans.

    Merriman is frequently in Los Angeles, where he owns a home, hosts a celebrity bowling event and last season was the co-host of a weekly Fox Sports pro football show. He is represented not only by an agent for football, Tom Condon, but also by a Hollywood talent agency, Creative Artists, and by a Los Angeles public relations firm, Rogers & Cowan.

    Smith is careful and cryptic when asked if Merriman focuses enough on football.

    “Everybody has different personalities on our football team,” Smith said. “I won’t talk about what concerns me. Let’s just say all I do is observe all the different personalities.”

    Merriman bristles at suggestions that his endeavors are pulling him from the game. His publicists, agents and assistants handle almost all of his business interests, he said, so he should be able to devote fewer than two hours a week to a television show.

    “It’s a new day, man,” Merriman said. “Nobody’s going to say that to an actor, to a Tom Cruise, but we’ve got the same marketing firm. It’s insulting. Basically what you’re telling me is all I can do is play football. If that’s a concern of anybody’s, I’m sorry, but it’s not a concern of mine. I’ve always got it in my mind that I’m an athlete first and this is what I do. Everything else, I just like to do.”

    Just to be sure, though, Merriman has turned to Twitter. If anyone doubts what kind of work he is putting in, he said, then follow him lifting at Gold’s Gym, hiking in the mountains or sprinting up sand dunes.

    Or just wait until the season begins, and see if he is making waves.
  2. Savage Lizard

    Savage Lizard FORMER Charger fan at 7000'

    Jul 12, 2007
  3. TheBeast

    TheBeast BoltTalker

    Dec 17, 2007
    There's been alot of Merriman articles lately.

    Looks like he's really looking foward to this season..

  4. wrbanwal

    wrbanwal Well-Known Member

    Dec 27, 2005
    and Shawne decided he DIDN'T NEED surgery after the 2007 season. Only to find out the next year, he couldn't get after it.



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