SDUT: Merriman plays out of mind, and helmet

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#GoIrish #Aztecs #SDGulls #Raiders #THFC #RipCity
Staff member
Jun 20, 2005
Chula Vista, CA

Shawne Merriman came off the corner with mayhem on his mind and only hair on his head.

The Chargers' No. 1 draft choice lost his helmet yesterday afternoon in beating a block by Kansas City's Jason Dunn, but pass rush leaves no time for retrieving lost articles. So Merriman pressed on, hatless and heedless, until he caught up to the quarterback and caused him to cough up the football.

"You don't even realize it comes off," Merriman said later of his headgear. "But whether you have a helmet or not, you still have to make the play. Just because you don't have a helmet doesn't mean you stop."

Not this guy. In a single play that spanned less than seven seconds, the rookie linebacker recorded a sack, forced a turnover, authored a statement and established an image. He put his personal stamp on the Chargers' 28-20 victory over the Chiefs, and signaled a stylistic shift in Marty Schottenheimer's defense.

From here on, opposing passers procrastinate at their own peril.

"That's why they brought me here," Merriman said. "To be a game-changer."

Standing in front of his dressing stall, stripped to the waist, Merriman's thick, tattooed torso told you that this was one of those players who could compete without his helmet or, for that matter, shoulder pads. He stands 6 feet 4, weighs 272 pounds and carries about as much body fat as Ichabod Crane.

He's not just big, but broad; not simply strong, but swift. His are the makings of an NFL monster.

"I just can't imagine what his future is going to be," said Chargers defensive tackle Jamal Williams. "He's just going to get better. You put the physical and emotional together, you're going to create a beast like him."

Merriman's two sacks of Kansas City's Trent Green yesterday exceeded the single-game tally of any Chargers' rookie since 1992. His head-rattling hit on Priest Holmes knocked the Chiefs' star running back out of the game. This wasn't bad for a second professional start, and it may prove only a preview of coming attractions.

"Shawne's a playmaker," Chargers linebacker Shaun Phillips said. "That's why we got him. That's why he got all that money, you know? That's what he's supposed to do. I expect that for the rest of his career."

Merriman spearheaded an aggressive, demonstrative and surprisingly proficient patchwork defense. Injured regulars Steve Foley and Randall Godfrey served only as spectators, and were hardly missed.

"Merriman had his best game all year," Godfrey said. "I thought the guys who came in and replaced Foley and me did well. I know our young guys can really play, but they showed (their maturity) today mentally. We didn't have any breakdowns."

Merriman, Phillips and Stephen Cooper had made three professional starts among them before yesterday's game and each of them emerged from the experience with more battle ribbons than scars. Rookie defensive end Luis Castillo added 1½ sacks to the effort and significantly to the celebration.

"We wanted to go in there and really contribute," Castillo said. "We went in against one of the best offenses in the league and we talked about it all week, about how good they were and all the Pro Bowlers that are in that offense."

Mistakes were made – with some frequency in the second half – but so were numerous big plays. Cooper's pressure on Green forced a feeble fourth-down, fourth-quarter incompletion inside the Chargers' 10-yard line. This came one play after Castillo had sacked Green for a six-yard loss.

"They hit him too many times," Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil said, "and that's a credit to those guys over on the other side of the line of scrimmage wearing that lightning bolt on their helmet."

Though Merriman made the deepest impression, Vermeil could have been referring here to numerous Chargers. It was Shaun Phillips, for instance, who pounced on Green's third-quarter fumble to preserve what was then a 21-10 lead.

Here, Phillips' enthusiasm overwhelmed his education, for he promptly flung the ball 30 yards down the sideline.

Unsportsmanlike conduct? Not that any of the officials noticed.

"I didn't know we couldn't throw it," Phillips said later. "They told me after the fact. Now I know. It won't happen again."

You never know. In the heat of battle, men have been known to lose their heads. Also their helmets.