|'Lights Out' Merriman moving on from '06 tumult, success|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 04 September 2007 12:38|
The playoff collapse and coaching change? Gone.
That four-game suspension for testing positive for steroids? A non-issue.
And that talk about cutting out the spasmodic ``Lights Out'' dance? Well, maybe not quite so fast there, tough guy.
After a tumultuous 2006, perhaps no one is more eager for the freshness of a new season than Shawne Merriman, the San Diego Chargers' star outside linebacker.
One of the NFL's top young players, Merriman says he wants to tone down the peripheral stuff, be a better teammate and focus on punishing opponents.
``After everything came up, I just figured that I'm going to go out there and just play,'' Merriman said. ``That's it. I don't have to do nothing else, but just go out and play. Don't worry about who's thinking or saying what. You go play and show people what kind of person, what kind of player you are, and leave it at that.''
That's how Merriman plans to rehab his image, if it indeed needs rehabbing.
Merriman was suspended for four games last fall for flunking a drug test. He blamed it on a tainted supplement and said he'd appeal. Declaring he wasn't a cheater, he changed his mind and served the punishment.
Despite missing a quarter of the season, he still led the NFL in sacks, earned a second trip to the Pro Bowl and a spot on the elite All-Pro team.
Merriman was considered a front-runner for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Several players, including Miami end Jason Taylor, who was voted the top defensive player, criticized Merriman receiving such honors.
That led to the so-called ``Merriman Rule,'' a stipulation in the NFL's 2007 Policy On Anabolic Steroids And Related Substances that says any player suspended for violating the policy will be ineligible for the Pro Bowl or any other awards from the league or the NFL Players Association.
Merriman doesn't want to talk about the suspension or its effects anymore.
``After one question it becomes a second question, after the second question there will be a third question, and after you answer 1,000 questions, there will be 1,001 questions,'' he said.
``You just kind of go out there and show yourself. That's what I did, off the field and on the field, I showed myself and I left it alone. After things happen, you don't revisit it, you move on and become a better person and player. And become a better teammate.''
Shaun Phillips, the Chargers' other hard-charging outside linebacker, doesn't think Merriman's image is in need of repair.
``I think it's passed,'' said Phillips, who had 11 1/2 sacks last year. ``For the most part it stinks, because I know what type of guy Shawne is, and everyone can just take my word that he's not that type of guy. He just got caught in a bad situation by mistake. It happened, it happened to other players. We've just got to learn to forgive and forget.''
Merriman's troubles last year are a non-issue with new coach Norv Turner. The only rehabbing Turner was concerned with was how Merriman recovered from offseason shoulder surgery.
``From the outside, you don't know how people look at those things,'' Turner said. ``In terms of what he's done this offseason, rehabbing from the scope, the commitment he's made, he's had an unbelievable camp. So I react to what I see and this guy is a serious football player who's put that behind him.''
Merriman spent time this summer raising money to battle homelessness, a cause he had become painfully familiar with as a child. He's also starring in a new shoe ad.
On a national radio interview during training camp, he said he was going to step back from the ``Lights Out'' persona for a while. He earned the nickname for the punishing hits he delivers. He's celebrated sacks - 27 of them in two seasons - by pretending to flip a switch tattooed on his forearm, followed by a spasmodic dance. During his suspension, he had ``Lights Out,'' carved into his hair.
The dance has had some unintended consequences. After New England shocked the Chargers in the playoffs, LaDainian Tomlinson was livid that some Patriots mocked the Lights Out dance at midfield.
A few days after his pronouncement this summer, Merriman walked through the locker room wearing a ``Lights Out'' tank top.
He either mixed up his shirts or old habits die hard.
As excitable as Merriman is, odds are the sack dance will be back rather quickly.
``That's me. That's one thing that I'll always be is me, no matter what, good or bad,'' Merriman said.
``I don't know when it will come out. Whatever I do, it will be ... to come out and pump my guys up or pump the crowd up or whatever it's going to be. Whoever's watching it can take it for what it's worth. That can get somebody off their couch while they're watching the game, or that can get somebody to throw a towel at their TV and say, 'That guy's showboating.' To me it doesn't matter. It's me being me, and it's me being energetic and loving the game.''
Phillips said it'll be fun watching Merriman this year, ``image or no image, because he's still a hell of a football player and he's going to go out there and do his job and just prove his point always, like he has done.''