Orchard Park, NY (BuffaloBills.com)
When recent waiver claim Shawne Merriman arrived at One Bills Drive Saturday, he got right to work, sitting in position meetings and taking in Saturday’s practice. It was important for him to acquaint himself with his new teammates, as building relationships sounds like his top priority.
“I came in here with the plan to work as hard as I can to gain the team’s trust and the guys around me,” said Merriman. “Not be a guy walking in here with Pro Bowls, but earn these guys’ respect by working and I’m pretty sure I’m going to do that.”
Merriman, who had dinner with Bills GM Buddy Nix Friday night, got a call from the Buffalo personnel boss right after he was waived by the Chargers on Tuesday.
“I’ve known Buddy since San Diego and as soon as everything went down he called me immediately,” said Merriman. “We talked for a while and he just asked how I felt about it and asked me if I’m ready to play and I said, ‘Yeah, I’m ready so let’s go.’”
The last two-plus NFL seasons for Merriman have been trying ones when it comes to injuries. He’s appeared in just 18 games since 2008. That’s where the linebacker points when asked why his production has fallen off from the level of play that earned him three Pro Bowl nods.
“I haven’t been on the field,” he said. “I’ve had some small nagging injuries that kept me away from playing. That’s really all it’s been.”
But Merriman feels healthy now. He passed a Bills team physical late Friday and intends to be on the practice field early next week.
Head coach Chan Gailey told Buffalobills.com what he’ll be looking for from Merriman in those first practice days next week.
“As much as we would like for him to play and as much as we know he can bring to the table for us we’ve got to be fair to the man and make sure he’s in football conditioning,” said Gailey. “Anybody can be in running conditioning, but he’s got to be in football conditioning.
Gailey indicated in the early going using him situationally might be the way to go as he becomes more familiar with their defensive system.
“Determining whether we can spot play him and get some things done there,” explained Gailey. “Maybe it’s third down rush, maybe it’s first and second down. Him catching on to terminology is going to be key too. He knows the 3-4 because he’s played in it, but how much different is the terminology and can he pick it up quickly?”
Merriman, who was already diving into Bills game film is confident he’ll be able to retain it sooner rather than later.
“Just sitting back and watching film of the guys that are here, you see the talent that’s on the field and you kind of wonder how the team is 0-7 because it doesn’t look like an 0-7 team,” he said. “Some of the things they’re doing defensively are some of the things I’m accustomed to doing. Just picking up the terminology and learning as fast as I can. The faster I learn it, the faster I get on the field. I fit this system and I think I’m ready to go.”
But a few times in his first press conference Merriman came back to leadership, which is what he intends to be for a team still trying to find its way back to respectability.
“I don’t just see myself going and running around on the field,” said Merriman. “I want these guys to be able to lean on me and know that I’m going to go out there and do the best I can every single day and they can depend on me. That’s how you build trust within the team and I plan on being that.”
In the end Merriman will have to prove it on the field after the only NFL team he’s ever played for decided he was no longer worthy of a roster spot. Merriman, who said he always plays with a chip on his shoulder, realizes playing for Buffalo will be an opportunity to resurrect his career, but he wants it to be something more.
“Not just that,” he said. “Coming in and being a big part of what they have going on here. They have high expectations of me to come in and make some things happen and I’m going to do that.”
Merriman joins the Bills after being released by the Chargers on November 2. A three-time Pro Bowl selection from 2005-07, Merriman has started 53-of-60 games played and totaled 231 tackles (177 solo) and 43.5 sacks. He was tabbed Associated Press NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2005 and added first-team All-Pro (2005-06) and second-team All-Pro (2007) accolades.
The 6-4, 265-pound Maryland product was a first-round (12th overall) draft selection of the Chargers in 2005.