Chargers Notebook: Leber holds tight to starting position


Oct 14, 2005

By: JAY PARIS - Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO ---- It's obvious rookie linebacker Shawne Merriman's progress has hit another gear. And the Chargers are ecstatic about his development, banking on the draft's 12th overall pick to have an impact over the season's final three months.

But standing between Merriman and a starting job is Ben Leber. And Leber isn't playing like someone eager to step aside for Merriman.

Although, Leber would be the last to say just that.

While Merriman has a thing for red lights on cameras, Leber goes about his work like a guy shoveling goal.

"I definitely don't like to do that,'' said Leber, on tooting his own horn. "But, overall, I think I've played fairly well. My goal was to make more plays behind the line of scrimmage, be a little more disruptive. And I think I've don't that.''

The numbers reflect it. Among Leber's 20 tackles are two sacks and four tackles for losses. Only Jamal Williams, with five, has more takedowns behind the line of scrimmage. Only Steve Foley, with 2 1/2, has more sacks.

So while Merriman has become a media darling, Leber has been having a sweet season.

"It comes down to in pass-rushing getting off the ball and trying to beat the back or tight end, just being more persistent,'' Leber said. "In the run game, it's not so much stay on the line of scrimmage but seeing things faster, anticipating more and getting up field.''

San Diego has been Leber's field of dreams since he was selected in the third round of the 2003 draft. On Sunday, he will start for the 52nd time for the Chargers.

But around draft time, Leber started to feel overlooked. When the realization hit Leber that Merriman would be slotted as an outside linebacker --- Leber's position ---- it didn't go over well.

"When the media and upper management started talking about he was going to be in my spot and they were so excited about him playing across from Foley, that is when I got the real taste of what that draft pick meant,'' Leber said.

"It's like, 'What's the deal? Am I doing something wrong? Am I not doing something right? Do they want more out of me?'

"But after I got a chance to talk to the coaches, I understood what I can bring to the team and I understand what he brings to this team. So, hopefully, as a tandem, we can get everything done. He is making plays, I'm making plays and, hopefully, we can make this defense better.''

Merriman's forte is harassing quarterbacks. That's why he often replaces Leber on passing downs. Leber's art is squashing the run game, which is why he is employed on earlier downs.

While Merriman is absorbing the learning curve, Leber learned something firsthand when Merriman's name was called back in April.

"My linebackers coach (Greg Manusky) told me every year for all 12 years he played he had to fight off the guy next to him,'' Leber said. "It is so competitive in the league, but this was a new position for me to be in.

"When I was younger coming in, I was the guy who was taking someone else's position. So I didn't have that pressure on me. And now the roles are reversed, and it's a lot different. It took me a little longer than a couple of days to get over that, to be honest, but by this point it's all right.''

The battle at the left outside linebacker's spot continues. And as he hopes to do Sunday against a Raiders running game led by LaMont Jordan, Leber will be stand his ground.

"I feel like I'm handling it pretty well,'' Leber said. "As long as I continue to make plays, I don't think they can take me off the field.''

Sunday decisions

Cornerback Drayton Florence (ankle) and right tackle Shane Olivea (knee) did very little work on Friday. Both will be game-time decisions on Sunday, in regard to their availability against the Raiders.

Of the two, Olivea's status seemed more questionable.

"A bye week would be nice right now,'' said Olivea, who suffered a grade two sprained medial collateral ligament Monday against the Pittsburgh Steelers. "If the game was (Friday), I couldn't go. It's going to have to change a lot before game time.''

Florence said his ankle is improving, but he would wait before committing.

"We probably won't know until Sunday,'' he said.

If needed, Sammy Davis would spell Florence. Leander Jordan would replace Olivea.

Et cetera

OLB Steve Foley (abdominal strain) didn't work but is expected to start Sunday. Others who did not work were WR Eric Parker (back), LG Toniu Fonoti (hand) and TE Ryan Krause (foot). Parker is questionable; Fonoti and Krause are out. ...The team will hold its walk-through at its facility today before departing for Oakland.