Merriman emergence is better late than never


Oct 14, 2005

Later than he thought it would happen, later than fans wanted, later than the team that guaranteed him $9 million anticipated, Shawne Merriman is beginning to show why the Chargers made him the No. 12 pick in the NFL draft.

He is a playmaker.

"Every week I'm trying to turn up the heat on opposing offenses, and I think I'm doing it," the rookie linebacker said. " . . . I want to play. I want to take over. That's why I was brought here."

Merriman came to San Diego advertised – and advertising himself – as the full package, a ball-seeking freak with built-in nastiness.

For a while, however, it seemed as if that package was marked "Fragile."

After sitting out the entire offseason over concerns he might get hurt and not be properly compensated by the Chargers, Merriman arrived at training camp a week late. Within a week, he was sidelined with a hamstring pulled running sprints.

He missed the first exhibition game, played well in the second and then in the third jammed his knee in the turf covering the opening kickoff. That injury kept him out of the final exhibition game and the season opener against Dallas.

He knew he was an early disappointment.

"Anybody who knows me knows I have confidence," he said. "But with that confidence, you have to show something. You have to show you can back up what you're saying."

Until he could do that, his money did enough talking.

Before the season opener, Merriman worked out a deal with teammate Matt Wilhelm wherein he would pay $20,000 for Wilhelm's No. 56.

And in the season's second week, Merriman had to submit himself to the rookie ritual of buying the Chargers veterans dinner. And those guys don't eat or drink cheap. Merriman's tab for the party of about 40 at Pamplemousse Grille that night: $32,000.

This was not how he expected his rookie season to go.

"Definitely," he said. "I'm not patient at all with (waiting)."

There was never any question he wanted to play. Every day he would lament his time on the sideline. He would quietly but boldly say extraordinary things – words that either portended greatness or would prove laughable if he did not begin to perform.

For example, in August, disappointed he would not make the trip to Green Bay for the Chargers' exhibition opener, he shook his head and said: "Oh man, I'd love to hit Brett Favre. I'd take the fine."

Fortunately for Merriman and the Chargers, Merriman has begun to perform.

Merriman's emergence began Sept. 25 against the Giants, when he deflected an Eli Manning pass at the line of scrimmage and later dropped Tiki Barber six yards behind the line of scrimmage. Monday night, he forced a Ben Roethlisberger fumble in the first quarter. And on one third-quarter drive, he was the first man to Willie Parker in the backfield on a play in which Parker lost five yards and two plays later Merriman blocked a pass at the line of scrimmage.

He participated in a little more than half of the defensive plays against the Steelers, his most action this season. But he was not on the field as the Steelers systematically drove to the winning field goal in the final minute.

"I was about to pull my hair out, standing on the sideline and knowing I could have been used to help," he said. "That's what they got me for."

He is improving but still lags some in pass coverage. And it appears he will continue to split time with Ben Leber for a while.

Merriman wants badly to be the starter, but he has become good at leashing his tongue and saying the politically prudent thing.

Still, he cannot help but broadcast his intentions.

"I'm going to make everybody upstairs think we have a guy out there busting his tail," he said. "He's out there doing what he's supposed to do. I want to take over."