It's been four years since Shawne Merriman has been Shawne Merriman. Maybe that Shawne Merriman is gone forever.
On Sunday night in Bills camp, I asked him: "Can you be Shawne Merriman again?''
"Absolutely,'' he said. "No question. But it's going to be a little bit different. The year I got 12-and-a-half sacks, I was coming off a year where I got 17, 18, whatever. [Seventeen.] So I get 12-and-a-half, and all of a sudden, that's a down year for me. I don't think it was. I can't get caught up with the numbers, just with how I play. And I know I can be the kind of player I was back then again. I feel it.''
Merriman has been a physical wreck the last three years. In 2008, the Chargers wanted him to have postseason knee surgery, and he said he thought he could rehab the knee and proceed without surgery. He couldn't, finding out after one game he needed the surgery. Dumb decision. That began a rift with the team that continued in a diminished 2009 (four sacks in 14 games) and in a wasted 2010, when he played in only three games before being waived injured with an Achilles injury. Claimed by Buffalo, he rehabbed the rest of the season and spent the offseason in San Diego training to get the Achilles right; he says he feels fine now, with no lingering problem with the Achilles. Now the Bills have him playing outside linebacker on the right side, rushing the passer behind an improved defensive line -- tackles Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams should sweep away some of the traffic in front of him -- and giving the Bills hope that, if his speed returns, his production will too.
Not many players who rely on speed can return to that level of production after nagging knee and Achilles injuries. Watching Merriman in some pass-rush situations Sunday, he looked quick, with a good burst, but there's no way of knowing what he'll be flashing until he gets into some live situations in preseason games.
"At least,'' he said, "I'm not holding back anymore. The problem last year is I wasn't able to explode. I had a partial tear, a 20 to 25 percent tear, of the Achilles, and it wasn't right. Just nagging all year. Then what happened is I tried to compensate for it, and other things started hurting. So it was good to have the entire offseason to make sure I got everything back to normal. That's what it feel like now.''
I asked Merriman if he was over the shock of waking up one day in San Diego, his adopted home, and then next day in Buffalo.
"It was a culture shock in so many ways,'' he said. "But the people in the organization, the coaching staff, the fans -- they've all been great. They've been so welcoming. It's such a great football place. But what I've learned is success depends so much on how you adapt to change. Life is all about change. This is been a good thing for me, to be able to get back and concentrate on football.''
Because the Bills have gotten nothing from 2009 first-rounder Aaron Maybin --who was supposed to be their pass-rush hope of the future -- their ability to get pressure on the quarterback depends on Merriman's ability to be what he was four years ago. It's the huge "if'' hanging over Bills camp.
Now on to your email.
• SIR, YESSIR!"Peter, wanted to thank you for taking the time to talk to us during our visit to the Lions Camp. We Marines really enjoyed it and got much more than what we were expecting when we first told you about it. Much thanks to you, Jim Schwartz, the Lions players and the entire staff for a great day. We were really blown away by it all and we all enjoyed it immensely. Later on, I realized I'd actually talked football with Peter King, talk about a surreal moment. Thank you again and you have no idea how much we service members appreciate you teaming up with the USO to do this tour. BTW, next time you're in Michigan, if you like lagers, Kid Rock's Badass Beer isn't too bad. I enjoy trying local beers wherever I go and this is one that I've enjoyed since I've found it a few months ago.''-- Marine Gunnery Sgt. Brian Reed; Owosso, Mich.
Brian, it was a privilege and a pleasure -- and I can tell you from the reaction of the Lions organization after you left that those you interacted with -- the entire offensive line, the coaches, Matthew Stafford, the head coach -- you made a great impact on them as well. Thanks so much for coming and for reminding us that there's a real world out there. How fortunate we are to have people like you overseeing it.
• CONSIDER THE IDEA TRANSMITTED"I live in Nebraska - the middle of nowhere in NFL terms. I was born in Wisc. and am a die-hard Packer fan. My sons have adopted the Vikings and Lions as their teams. My question is has the NFL ever considered a pay-per-view agreement with the cable networks? The 3 of us cannot get to NFL games because of the distance and money involved, so each week the NFL get zero dollars from us. If we could order our favorite games the way we order movies for $14.95 (or whatever) the NFL could at least get a portion of that money each week. Multiply that by the number of fans like my sons and me and I see money going to the NFL that would not be there in today's world.''-- Gordon, of Omaha
I would write to Howard Katz, the NFL's broadcasting czar, at the NFL offices at 280 Park Avenue in New York (10011). What the NFL wants you to do is buy Sunday Ticket, obviously. But if you and others chip away at this idea, who knows? Maybe the policy gets changed.
• POINT 1 ABOUT GUN VIOLENCE"I wanted to thank you for your gun violence story. I know MMQB fans are going to scream and yell and call you names for posting it, but I believe that if more respected people like you spoke out against this insanity then maybe something would be done. Almost 100,000 Americans were shot and/or killed last year. That should be an unacceptable number to everyone, whether you support gun control or have a small legal arsenal at home. The Second Amendment grants the right to bear arms, but we as a society in the year 2011 need to rethink what that means.''-- Gary; Suffern, N.Y.
Thank you. We have to stop ignoring those stories. They're a blight on a thinking society.
• POINT 2 ABOUT GUN VIOLENCE "I understand, being a very strong and loyal republican, why you would expect several e-mails regarding your comments on gun control. I want to let you know I truly support what you are advocating, taking guns away from the gangs and young criminals of this country. The amount of violence I consistently hear about in the media regarding shootings in Philadelphia is truly disturbing. I do believe there is a solid reason for concern, however, the rights of the game and casual hunters of our nation, and those hoping to defend themselves in areas of questionable characters should not be infringed upon because of this small minority (gangs and criminals). I hope it can help you rest easier that although it may not seem effective, as for a large part it is not, our government is working to control this epidemic known as gun trafficking. Most guns used by gangs and criminals are guns obtained illegally as a large number of gang members are not old enough to purchase fire arms and live ammunition. Hopefully with the public's help the government can stop the tragedies that you have described. I thought you should know however that there are means and funds and man power that are invested in taking guns out of the hands of gangs, and that most guns purchased legally are used in good nature by their owners.''-- Nathan; Broomall, Pa.
Point noted, and, obviously, this is not about taking guns away from hunters. Thanks.
• POINT 3 ABOUT GUN VIOLENCE"Love the column as usual, but leave the political talk to your own dinner table. Gun violence in this country is certainly a problem, but as usual, those ignorant of the situation think that more gun laws are the solution. The fact is, in the past 30 years, these laws have increased exponentially, but so has gun violence, so clearly the issues are of a much deeper socio-economic variety. In short, blaming the guns for the violence is about as smart as blaming #2 pencils for poor inner city test scores.''-- Mike Ingoldsby; Dorchester, Mass.
I don't blame the guns, sir. I blame, in part, the manufacture and availability of them.
• WHEN THE SUN COMES UP ON THE SLEEPY LITTLE TOWN ... "The reason there are no Doobie Brothers in sight in China Grove, N.C., is that the song wasn't written about China Grove, N.C., but rather, China Grove, Texas. It's easy to forget Texas this year, with the Cowboys and Texans being nondescript, but don't leave us out of great songs.''-- Ricky, San Antonio
Excellent point. This rock 'n roll dolt appreciates the education.
• PITTSFORD CHECKS IN"Mr. King, thanks for your missive from Pittsford. I have a couple of counterpoints to your points:
1. It's pronounced Chy-lie, not Chill-ee. So no Skyline for you. Same with Jay-va (not Jah-va). I think Rochester-area folks inhaled a bit too much developing fluid fumes.
2. Did you notice that every Tim Horton's is located on the inbound side of whatever street it's on? They may serve run-of-the-mill coffee, but they're not dumb.
3. Yes, I know about Donald Jones. That's because a) I'm a Bills fan and b) I attended Youngstown State. Go Penguins!
4. The shotgun/Wildcat might work if Fitz doesn't get creamed. Offensive linemen, anyone? I would've kept Jasper on the O-line, if for nothing else than to serve as the great wall of Chy-lie. Or Peet-Zah."-- Phil; Clarence, N.Y.
Thank, Phil. Western New York is always one of my favorite stops on the training camp tour. Thanks to everyone in Pittsford for being so hospitable. I'm only sorry I couldn't frequent the bar with no signage.